News Corp has balked at selling off Sky News to satisfy Brussels. Despite that nose-thumbing, the European Commission has extended from December 8 to December 22 the deadline for the first phase of its competition investigation of Rupert Murdoch’s £12 billion ($19 billion) takeover of BSkyB. What Brussels is worried about is a 100% News Corp-owned BSkyB deal as the cornerstone of a global pay-TV empire. The European probe is separate from the investigation by British regulator Ofcom which will report on December 31 and still could derail the deal.
City analysts tell me the reason why ITV’s stock price is creeping up again is because BSkyB could be selling its share of ITV. “It would look better from a regulatory point of view,” says Paul Richards of Numis, referring to UK competition regulator Ofcom investigating News Corp’s bid to own Sky outright. (ITV was noticeably absent from the list of signatories including the BBC and Channel 4 who wrote to UK business secretary Vince Cable last month warning him about the deal. Media analyst Claire Enders tells me: “ITV has a lot to gain by cuddling up to BSkyB.”) RTL, Europe’s largest TV company, has been mentioned as one possible buyer of Sky’s ITV stake. NBC is another name in the mix since ITV’s news arm ITN already tailors news stories for the U.S. broadcaster. And Simon Cowell has said he’s been asked by various people in the States whether he’d be interested in putting together a joint bid for ITV. ITV itself is doing well, with its projected December ad revenue figures outperforming last year’s which bodes well for prospects in 2011.
Mark Thompson has called on the British government to intervene in News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB. Speaking on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show in New York, he agreed there was potential for an abuse of power by the Murdoch media group if BSkyB, the UK’s biggest broadcaster in terms of its £5.4 billion revenue, comes under the same ownership as News International, the UK’s largest newspaper group. Combining BSkyB with News International, owner of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, raised issues of “how you ensure plurality in the system”, Thompson warned. He said that the UK government should look at those issues – although he stopped short of calling for the deal to be blocked.