Big money locks up Ant and Dec

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CANNES -- In an indication of the increasing value of entertainment talent, ITV on Tuesday said it has signed a two-year golden handcuffs deal with British TV quiz hosts Ant and Dec in a deal reportedly worth £20 million ($40 million).

The deal puts the anchors of "I'm a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here" and "Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon" in the upper echelon of the U.K.'s highest-paid television talent.

ITV declined comment on the deal's value, but director of television Simon Shaps said the pair had become an integral part of the ITV brand.

"Ant and Dec have become synonymous with ITV and they have played a huge role in making the channel the home of entertainment programming in the U.K.," he said. "I'm thrilled that we are able to extend our deal with Ant and Dec and take our exclusive partnership into its ninth year."

In the U.K., the ability to deliver mass audiences to light entertainment and variety shows has become so significant that broadcasters are prepared to pay huge fees to keep the right talent.

Earlier this year, ITV retained an exclusive relationship with Simon Cowell in a deal thought to be worth £20 million. While last year, the BBC faced criticism for signing an £18 million pact with film and chatshow host Jonathan Ross.

"The question you have to ask when valuing a deal like this is not how much should ITV have paid to keep Ant and Dec (Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly)," one senior U.K. entertainment executive said. "The question is how much it would cost ITV if they lost them. It would cost them a hell of a lot more."
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