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Fears over BSkyB’s ITV stake

03 октября 2007

British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite group chaired by Rupert Murdoch, may be forced into a lossmaking sale of its 17.9 per cent stake in ITV after the Competition Commission said the holding in the UK terrestrial broadcaster was against the public interest.

However, the commission stopped short of voicing concern about BSkyB’s influence over ITV’s news output or the advertising market – moves that could have triggered a wholesale review of Mr Murdoch’s UK media assets.
BSkyB paid £940m ($1.91bn) for the holding in November, thereby thwarting an attempted takeover of ITV by Virgin Media, the rival pay-TV group then called NTL.
The commission said BSkyB’s stake would lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the UK television market as the company would have the ability and incentive to exploit opportunities to weaken ITV.
BSkyB “would be able to influence ITV’s key strategic decisions, particularly rela- ting to investment, whether in content, capacity or new technology”, the commission said. “We thought it unlikely that BSkyB would have chosen to invest in ITV purely as an investment vehicle,” it added.
The satellite broadcaster may now be required to divest all or part of the holding, stoking speculation that Virgin Media or Germany’s RTL might revive plans to buy ITV. A sale of the entire stake at Tuesday’s closing price would lead to a loss of £209m for BSkyB.
Shares in ITV closed up 4 per cent at 105p, amid a mixture of bid speculation and relief that partial divestiture was a possible remedy, thereby reducing the risks of a stock overhang. BSkyB closed up 3.5p at 687.5p.
Peter Freeman, the commission’s chairman, said it had reached “a very powerful conclusion” in recognising the threat BSkyB posed to ITV’s ability to compete, regardless of its comments on BSkyB’s influence over ITV’s news output.
Alistair Darling, the then secretary of state for trade and industry, referred BSkyB’s investment in ITV to the commission in May, following submissions from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom.
The commission must deliver its final report to the government by January 2.
“Most people feel that the obvious minimum point for BSkyB to sell down to is 9.9 per cent – that’s below virtually every level that matters,” said one banker.
BSkyB welcomed the commission’s finding that its ITV stake did not raise public interest concerns with respect to plurality of news providers. ITV said it welcomed the findings.

Источник: Financial Times

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