Slow going as SMG holds back on merger

SMG, the media group, is no nearer to agreeing a merger with UTV, the Ulster broadcaster, despite suggestions that a new equity split has been agreed.

City sources watching progress on talks between the Glasgow company and UTV say that until due diligence is complete neither company is in a position to discuss equity share, management positions or any other details of a combined entity.

Suggestions that SMG has agreed to UTV taking 54% of the merged group are being played down among media observers as the talks continue. In any case, SMG remains the larger of the two companies and its shares rose on Friday, improving its case for a closer division of the equity.

SMG is thought to be in no hurry to push through a merger and is resisting pressure from the markets to do a deal, despite recent setbacks which were exacerbated by a profits warning last year. It suspended its search for a chief executive when the proposed merger with UTV was resurrected.

The markets believe this points to UTV boss John McCann taking over as chief executive of a merged company and his position appeared to be strengthened when Fru Hazlitt, head of SMG-owned Virgin Radio, quit to join GCap. She had been considered among the front-runners for the SMG job.

The merger is being described in some quarters as a takeover by UTV, which is also likely to be resisted by SMG. One media analyst said: "SMG will want to ensure its relative strengths in the partnership are not underplayed.

"It contributes 6% of ITV1's net advertising revenue, against just 1% from UTV and Virgin's revenues are greater than those of UTV's TalkSport. SMG also makes programmes for the network, which UTV does not."

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