The future of television: Who owns television? 

25 December 2021

[PART 1] • [PART 2] • [PART 3] • [PART 4] • [PART 5] • [PART 6] • [PART 7] • [PART 8] • [PART 9] • [PART 10] • [PART 11]


Line drawing by John Farleigh

From the Daily Mirror Spotlight on the Future of Television, published in 1958

“The monopolist who controls London television will be one of the most powerful men in this country, the Lord Beaverbrook of television, irresponsible, prejudiced, powerful, appointed in secret by a small group of shareholders.”

— Mr. Christopher Mayhew, M.P.

The thirty commercial companies, the ninety individuals, and the handful of investment trusts and nominee interests who together finance independent television have in their care what is potentially the most powerful medium of communication in Britain.

So much power and so few people.

Is commercial television in the right hands?

And can those hands be trusted not only with the continuance but with the expansion of commercial television?

Independent television as it was in the beginning is not as it is now, nearly three years later. Of the four groups who were initially offered contracts — the Associated Broadcasting Development Co., Associated-Rediffusion, Kemsley-Winnick and Granada — only one, Granada, has retained its original format.

The Associated Broadcasting Development Company joined forces with Incorporated Television Programme Company, one of the original applicants, to form Associated TeleVision which took over the contract and was later expanded so that the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Pictorial could take a large interest in it.

At Associated-Rediffusion, the Daily Mail group’s fifty per cent. share was finally relinquished, the other interests in the company increasing accordingly.

The Kemsley-Winnick contract fell through completely and was replaced by A.B.C. Television where the minority interest, held by Birmingham newspapers, has also dropped out.

There are now also four additional programme companies — Scottish Television, Television Wales and the West, Southern Television, and Tyne-Tees Television.

Commercial television today is mainly in the hands of five industries — the newspaper business, the film business, the theatre business, the radio and electrical business and what for want of a better must be called just business. This collaboration of entertainment and information interests with concerns versed in technical and financial knowhow is probably the best combination possible.

Because of the different size, structure and financial expectations of the eight programme companies, it is difficult to compute what share these different industries have of commercial television. However, of the eight contractors at present in existence:—

  • The newspaper industry has interests in six;
  • The cinema or film industry controls two and has interests in another two;
  • The theatre and variety business have interests in two;
  • The radio business has interests in two;
  • Various business concerns have interests in five.


The combined issued ordinary share capital of the eight companies, amounting to about £3 million, is allotted approximately as follows:

Newspaper industry 23 per cent.
Film and cinema industry 20½ per cent.
Theatre and variety 13 per cent.
Radio and electrical 11½ per cent.
Other businesses † 11½ per cent.
Nominees, investment trusts etc. not account for above 17 per cent.
Private individuals 3½ per cent.

† largely British Electric Traction’s interest in Associated-Rediffusion




When the eight contractors are broken down it will be seen that two of them are in fact wholly controlled by single companies, two are dominated by single controlling interests, and four are independent companies with a multiplicity of participating interests:—

  • A.B.C. Television (Midlands and North, weekends) and Granada TV Network (North, Monday to Friday) are wholly controlled by single companies.
  • Associated-Rediffusion (London, Monday to Friday) and Scottish Television (Scotland, whole week) are dominated by single controlling interests.
  • Associated TeleVision (London, weekends; Midlands, Monday to Friday), Southern Television (South Coast — not yet operating), T.W.W. (Southwest and West of England, whole week), and T.T.T. (Northeast — not yet operating) have a variety of interests participating in them.

A.B.C. Television Ltd.

All shares are held by the Associated British Picture Corporation, a public company controlling a cinema chain and a film producing business.

Associated-Rediffusion Ltd.

Originally a fifty-fifty deal between the Daily Mail group (Associated Newspapers Ltd.) and two of the companies in which Mr. Harold Drayton, the financier, is interested. These are British Electric Traction Ltd., the vast motorbus, investment and laundry empire of which Mr. Drayton is chairman; and Rediffusion Ltd. (formerly Broadcast Relay Service Ltd.) the relay radio and wired television chain in which British Electric Traction has a large interest.

The Daily Mail then reduced its interest to ten per cent., and B.E.T. and Rediffusion increased their interest accordingly. Then recently the Mail left Associated-Rediffusion entirely. The share position is now approximately :—

British Electric Traction Ltd. 90 per cent.
Rediffusion Ltd
Mr. Harold Drayton’s personal interest 2 per cent.
Private individuals, nearly all directors of various Drayton companies 8 per cent.


Associated TeleVision Ltd.

The ordinary share capital is held mainly by newspaper, theatrical and radio interests of which the biggest is Incorporated Television Programme Ltd., a private company whose main shareholders are Moss Empires Ltd., Howard and Wyndham Ltd., and International Variety and Theatrical Agency Ltd.

The next biggest shareholders are Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd., and Sunday Pictorial Newspapers (1920) Ltd.

ATV ordinary shares are held in the following approximate proportions:—

Incorporated Television Programme Ltd. 22 per cent.
Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd. 11 per cent.
Sunday Pictorial Newspapers (1920) Ltd. 11 per cent.
Pye Ltd. 7 per cent.
Westminster Press Provincial Newspapers Ltd. 5½ per cent.
Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd. 4 per cent.
Small minority holdings 39½ per cent.


Granada TV Network Ltd.

All shares are held by Granada Group Ltd., a private company operating the Granada chain of cinemas.

Scottish Television Ltd.

Controlled by Mr. Roy Thomson, the newspaper owner. Howard and Wyndham Ltd., and twenty-four private individuals, have minority interests:

Thomson British Publications Ltd. 72 per cent.
Thomson Television Ltd. 8 per cent.
Howard and Wyndham Ltd. 10 per cent.
Private individuals 10 per cent.


Southern Television Ltd.

Owned in three equal parts as follows:

Rank Organisation Ltd. 33½ per cent.
Associated Newspapers Ltd. 33½ per cent.
Amalgamated Press Ltd. 33½ per cent.


Television Wales and the West Ltd.

Lord Derby, and the News of the World (with Berrow’s Newspapers Ltd., which it controls) have approximately a quarter share each, with the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo Ltd. as the next largest shareholder. Mr. Jack Hylton who is a member of the board, does not appear to be a shareholder.

Lord Derby 25 per cent.
News of the World Ltd. 20½ per cent.
Berrow’s Newspapers Ltd. 4 per cent.
Liverpool Daily Post and Echo Ltd. 14½ per cent.
Imperial Tobacco Co. Ltd. 6 per cent.
Viscount Astor 2 per cent.
Various businesses and private individuals 28 per cent.


Tyne-Tees Television Ltd.

The News Chronicle (Daily News Ltd.) and George and Alfred Black, the impresarios, are the largest shareholders; Mr. Sydney Box, the film producer, also as an interest.

Daily News Ltd. 21 per cent.
George Black 10½ per cent.
Alfred Black 10½ per cent.
Northern Mercantile and Investment Corporation Ltd. 17 per cent.
Sydney Box 7 per cent.
Small minority holdings 34 per cent.


The boards of these companies are made up largely of their major participants. Television Wales and the West, one of the smallest companies, has the largest board, with fifteen directors; Granada, one of the biggest companies, has the smallest board with four directors. The 73 directors of the eight programme companies are drawn from the following fields :—

Radio and television 9
Cinema and film industry 15
Theatre and variety 10
Newspaper and publishing 12
Banking insurance investments 14
Industry 5
Universities and academic 3
Others (including vacancies) 5


❉ ❉ ❉

In every field of commerce it is usual to find the same finger in many separate pies and the same [n-word – Ed] in many woodpiles.

How true is this in television?

Does anyone hold an interest in more than one programme company? Is anyone stealthily building up a television empire on the lines of the great newspaper chains? Is, indeed, such a thing possible?

There is a firmly-held belief in many quarters that the Television Act prevents a contractor from having any interest in any other television company. It does not. All the Act says is that the Television Authority must do all it can to see that there is adequate competition between a number of contractors, independent of each other as to finance and control, to supply programmes.

But to all would-be contractors the Authority makes it quite clear that it will not approve of any contractor having a direct interest in another contractor, and that the Authority’s approval for any other financial association between two programme companies is likely to be given only in exceptional circumstances.

What “financial associations” have so far arisen?

(1) Howard and Wyndham ltd.

This company, which holds a minority interest in Scottish Television Ltd., also has a tenth share in Incorporated Television Programme Co. Ltd., the largest single shareholder in Associated Television.

As Incorporated Television is not itself a programme company, this arrangement probably does not offend the Television Authority. The Authority has, however, some control over the dealings of Incorporated Television Programme Co. as part of its contract with Associated Television.

(2) Birmingham Post and Mail

The Birmingham Post and Mail and members of the Westminster Press Provincial Newspapers group held a small interest in A.B.C. Television. Because of their holding in Associated Television, however, they have now given this up.

Among those interested in taking up a share in A.B.C. Television’s future plans is Odhams Press.

Odhams was among the groups originally invited to pilot commercial television; but in those pioneer days it preferred to let others do the experimenting. Once the success of the medium was assured, however, Odhams Press has begun to make its belated, gingerly approaches.

Lord Beaverbrook’s newspapers, along with many others, were interested in the prospects of commercial television in the early days, but did not apply for a contract when it came to the point. The Express papers have since been heavily committed to an uncompromising and rancorous policy of proving, often at great cost to their own reserves of ingenuity, that commercial television does not work. If the Express group did go into television there would, at any rate, be an interesting exhibition of editorial backpedalling.

(3) Associated Newspapers

The experience of the Daily Mail group, Associated Newspapers Ltd., in commercial television has so far not been a happy one.

The Daily Mail began to reduce its heavy interest in Associated-Rediffusion in 1956, and by the time that prospects for commercial television were looking brightest it had only a 10 per cent, share left in the business.

“This decision,” explained Lord Rothermere to his shareholders, “does not indicate in any way our lack of confidence in the future of commercial television. Should favourable opportunities occur for investment in commercial television, we shall not hesitate to use available surplus funds for this purpose.”

Such a favourable opportunity had in fact already occurred, for two days before Lord Rothermere’s remarks were published, the I.T.A. had received the last of thirteen tenders for the Isle of Wight station, and one of those was from the group now known as Southern Television Ltd.

Associated Newspapers, then, was in – involved in two programme companies.

It had a tenth share of Associated-Rediffusion.

It had a one-third share of Southern Television Ltd.

It had to get rid of one or the other of these interests. Much sleep was lost at Carmelite House, the Headquarters of Associated Newspapers, in deciding which interest has to go.

Recently, after months of dickering, Associated Newspapers decided to sell its share in Associated-Rediffusion and to stay in Southern Television.

With this move the Daily Mail finally severs some very painful connections. For a time it seemed that things might go the other way and that the Mail might have given up its share in Southern Television and bought back its original interest, or a large part of its original interest, in Associated-Rediffusion. Mr. Harold Drayton and his colleagues of British Electric Traction and Rediffusion will undoubtedly have seen the droll side of this situation and the Mail would very probably have had to pay heavily for its shilly-shallying.

The Drayton companies will still not be the losers, for now, presumably, they will have full control of Associated-Rediffusion.


❉ ❉ ❉

Thus the financial ins and outs of commercial television.

The television business differs from the ordinary world of commerce in this respect: its cards are always on the table. There is little room for secret deals. Any shift in control must be with the approval of the Television Authority. Sometimes the shifting is well under way before the Authority’s approval is sought. But in any event, the

I.T.A. misses very few of the financial manoeuvres that from time to time take place.


[PART 1] • [PART 2] • [PART 3] • [PART 4] • [PART 5] • [PART 6] • [PART 7] • [PART 8] • [PART 9] • [PART 10] • [PART 11]


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