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History of Carlton Communications Plc 1983 – 2002

It is interesting to some readers that we share the same name as a now deceased communications company. We present the history of Carlton PLC here for posterity as it is not available elsewhere on the web any longer (originally was published here: http://files.investis.com/)

Carlton became a public company in 1983. It had subsidiary companies engaged in television and photographic production facilities, programming, specialist publishing, exhibition contracting and the design and sale of professional television equipment. Prior to 1983, Carlton was a private company established by Michael Green, the current Chairman, and his brother David Green, who now sits on the Board as a non-executive director.

During the mid-1980’s Carlton acquired a series of post-production ‘facilities’ houses, including The Moving Picture Company and TVi based in London, and Complete Post and Gordon Enterprises based in the US. It also acquired Abekas Video Systems, a designer and manufacturer of image manipulation products for the television industry.

In 1987 Carlton made its first move into mainstream British broadcasting with the acquisition of a 20% stake in Central Independent Television P.L.C., the ITV licence holder for the East, West and South Midlands.

Later in 1987, with the acquisition of Zenith Productions, Carlton became the largest independent television film and programme maker in the UK, producing high quality drama such as ‘Inspector Morse’, game shows such as ‘Wheel of Fortune’, music specials, documentaries and children’s programming.

In October 1988, Carlton bought 100% of Technicolor for $780m. Thus the company became the world’s largest producer of pre-recorded videocassettes and processor of motion picture film, servicing the large Hollywood studios and software companies, including Disney, Warner, DreamWorks, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.

The acquisition of Technicolor enhanced Carlton’s position in the international media world, expanding its geographical coverage with facilities throughout the USA, the UK, Holland and Italy.

In the late 1980s the world television market began to enter a period of exceptional growth spurred on by deregulation and the consequent increase in channels and demand for programming. Change in the UK alone during this decade included the advent of Channel 4, breakfast television, satellite broadcasting and the development of cable.

Carlton bought UEI plc in 1989, incorporating Quantel and Solid State Logic, which designed and manufactured professional video and sound products. Satellite, cable and new terrestrial television services starting in the UK and Europe were equipping their facilities; existing broadcasters were investing in the latest technology and new independent facilities companies were entering the market to service the anticipated growth. (Carlton disposed of Solid State Logic in 1999 and Quantel in 2000).

In the same year, Paramount Pictures purchased a 49% stake in Zenith Productions, giving Carlton access to an international programme distribution network and a wealth of experience in television programme production for the US and world market.

By the end of the 1980s Carlton was focused on the supply of products and services to the television, film and video industries worldwide. Carlton’s market was global; its video and sound television products sold to 47 countries; it was Europe’s leading video post-production facility; it was the world’s largest processor of motion picture film and the world’s largest producer of pre-recorded videocassettes.

In 1991 Carlton won the London Weekday ITV Licence to broadcast for a period of ten years from January 1993 with the option to renew for a further ten years. The London Weekday Licence was the biggest ITV franchise reaching some 4.4m homes and enjoyed the highest share of ITV’s net advertising revenue. It was named Carlton Television.

In November 1991 Carlton acquired a 20% stake in GMTV which had been awarded the National Breakfast Television Licence, replacing TV-am.

In the same year, Carlton Books was launched to publish books for the leisure and entertainment markets.

In January 1992 Carlton acquired Pickwick Group, now called Carlton Visual Entertainment, which publishes and distributes video and DVD titles from the Carlton library and other sources.

Carlton Television started broadcasting on 1st January 1993. In March of that year, Carlton acquired an 18% stake in ITN, the national and international news provider. Then in November, following the Government’s relaxation of ownership restrictions, Carlton announced an offer for the remaining 80% of Central that it did not already own. The offer became unconditional in February 1994.

Later in 1993 Carlton’s 51% of Zenith Productions was divested in compliance with ownership regulations set out in the 1990 Broadcasting Act.

Carlton Television and Central together made up the largest part of ITV network at the time, with approximately 30% of ITV net advertising revenue, equivalent to an estimated 22% of total UK television advertising revenue. The two regional broadcasters covered some 20 million people, representing 36% of the UK population.

As well as holding the broadcasting franchise for the East, West and South Midlands, Central owned programme production studios in Nottingham (now called Carlton Studios) and a film and television distribution and programme library business (now called Carlton International) which distributes television programme and film content in the UK and the international marketplace.

Meanwhile, Abekas and ImMIX, a professional broadcast products company that had been set up in 1991, were sold to Scitex Corporation for $52m and $21m respectively.

Other activities in 1996 included the acquisition of Cinema Media (renamed Carlton Screen Advertising), extending Carlton’s advertising sales capability from the small to the big screen. Carlton Screen Advertising now accounts for 57% of all UK cinema advertising and is the market leader for delivering film trailers, posters and other promotional material to cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland.

The acquisition of Westcountry Television, the ITV licence holder for the South West of England, took Carlton’s coverage to 39% of the UK population.

The acquisition of Action Time in 1996, one of Europe’s most successful producers of entertainment programmes, and Planet 24 in 1999 helped to expand Carlton’s production base to meet the growing international demand for popular shows. Carlton now makes programmes for all major terrestrial networks as well as cable and satellite channels. In the US, Carlton America has found success with made-for-television movies and is now co-producing 17 television movies a year for the US and international marketplaces.

Carlton continually invested in its television programme and film library. By the end of 1999, Carlton’s library held 2,000 films and 18,000 hours of television programmes. It owns the Rank, Rohauer, Romulus, Korda and ITC film collections which include titles such as Sophie’s Choice, Brief Encounter, Richard III, The African Queen, The Eagle Has Landed, Birth of a Nation and the Carry On films.


Technicolor continued to strengthen its position in the film and video markets by becoming an integral part of the Hollywood supply chain. The company built up a complex distribution and fulfilment network and expanded into new disc-based, (or ‘optical’), media formats.

Technicolor offered services from processing the dailies (or ‘rushes’) for the director on location, to printing the film prints, delivering them to the cinemas, duplicating the videocassettes, DVDs and CD-ROMS and distributing them directly to the retail stores.

During 1997 and 1998 Technicolor continued to expand geographically to meet growing demand with the acquisition of Metrocolor (a film processing plant in London), the opening of a videocassette production plant in Denmark and the acquisition of videocassette production facilities in Spain, Italy and Mexico.

DVDs were launched in the US in 1997 and in Europe in 1998. After setting up its own optical disc facility in 1994, Technicolor acquired Nimbus CD International in June 1998 for $280m, the world’s leading independent manufacturer of optical discs. Technicolor was therefore able to satisfy its customers’ demands for parallel production and distribution of DVDs and videocassettes.

In 1999 Technicolor continued expansion with the acquisitions of wholly owned businesses in Canada and Australia and started the development of digital cinema.

Carlton sold Technicolor to Thomson multimedia in 2001 for $1.9bn

Digital Television

In 1997, British Digital Broadcasting, a company jointly owned by Carlton, Granada and BSkyB was awarded three digital terrestrial television licences and in November 1998 started broadcasting under the name of ONdigital, later changed to ITV Digital. For regulatory reasons, BskyB was required to sell its shareholding but supplied its important programming to ITV Digital, a 50/50 joint venture of Carlton and Granada. It was the world’s first multi-channel television service received through an aerial and by 2002 had over 50 channels, exclusive sports deals, e-mail, interactivity, pay-per-view and 1.2m subscribers.

Carlton today

Further consolidation in ITV during 2000 led to Carlton acquiring HTV in and being awarded the Scottish Television and Grampian Television airtime sales contract. Carlton now broadcasts to 26m people – almost 50% of the UK population – and accounts for 46% of ITV’s net advertising revenue. Carlton has renewed all its four ITV licences for a further ten years.

Carlton next focused on free-to-air television broadcasting and advertising sales, content production and distribution, and cinema advertising.

Carlton PLC is now closed.