Chief exec search still on, ITV says


LONDON -- ITV on Tuesday took the unusual step of dismissing speculation that it has suspended its search for a chief executive, pending the outcome of possible merger talks with cable group NTL.

Breaking its silence over the recruitment process, a spokesman for the broadcaster said the search for a chief executive was unaffected by the fact that it was potentially in play.

"ITV has not suspended its search for a chief executive. The recruitment process continues and is progressing well," the spokesman said, but declined to give any details about when a hire might be announced.

ITV bosses are set to meet with NTL chairman Jim Mooney later this week and discuss the possibility of a merger of ITV with NTL's Flextech programming division.

Such a move would see the combined companies control a 27% share of the U.K. multichannel audience and see ITV's four free-to-air channels join with NTL's 23 basic-tier subscription channels.

Such a move could be impacted by the role played by the BBC, a 50% shareholder in NTL's 14 UKTV channels, which include such channels as U.K. Gold, U.K. Style and U.K. Food.

In the event of a change in NTL's ownership, the BBC has an option to buy out the 50% stake in UKTV that it does not already own.