Cable company NTL said yesterday it was interested in pursuing a merger with broadcaster ITV.
The UK's biggest cable operator, which has already bought Virgin Mobile and Telewest this year, said it had advised ITV of its interest in exploring a "possible combination transaction". It has scheduled an initial conversation with the company, which has struggled recently in a weak advertising market.
NTL said: "This process is at a very preliminary stage and there is no assurance that these discussions will lead to any offer being made for ITV."
ITV was a bid target earlier this year, but former chief executive Charles Allen fended off interest from a consortium of private equity firms. NTL will change its name to Virgin Mobile next year, following acquisitions to create a business capable of offering customers the "quad-play" of digital TV, broadband internet access, and mobile and home telephone services.
The company also has a content division, Flextech Television, which specialises in providing TV channels for the UK multichannel television market.
Flextech owns Trouble, Bravo, LivingTV, Challenge and Ftn, and is a 50 per cent partner in UKTV, a joint venture with BBC Worldwide. Together they are the largest supplier of basic channels in the UK pay television market, viewed by 27 million people in 12 million homes.
ITV confirmed a "highly tentative expression of interest about holding discussions" from NTL and said it was willing to listen, but that no meeting had been held and no proposal had been received.
ITV's market capitalisation is about £4.1 billion.
It has also been operating without a permanent chief executive while it hunts for a replacement for Mr Allen.
Among those being considered is Stephen Carter, former head of Ofcom, and formerly a managing director of NTL.
ITV shares closed up 6.5p at 112p