Financial News

  • 16 July 2014, 22:27

Liberty In Talks To Buy BSkyB Stake In ITV

The owner of Virgin Media was in advanced talks on Wednesday night to buy a stake in ITV in a deal that would seal BSkyB's exit from the commercial broadcaster's share register.

Sources said Liberty Global was closing in on an agreement to buy BSkyB's remaining 7.2% stake in ITV.

The Virgin Media owner is understood to have lodged an interest in buying the shares owned by BSkyB after learning of its intention to sell them to institutional investors through a placing.

An announcement about the transaction is likely to be made on Thursday.

There is a slim possibility that the stake could be sold to institutional investors if a deal with Liberty Global fell apart.

News of BSkyB's intention to sell the shares after nearly eight years as a shareholder in ITV paves the way for a further shake-up of the UK's media landscape.

It is unclear whether Liberty Global, which bought Virgin Media last year, would view the purchase of a minority stake in ITV as a passive investment or as the prelude to discussions aimed at collaborating in areas such as content and distribution.

Analysts said that Tom Mockridge, a former board member of BSkyB who is now chief executive of Virgin Media, was likely to have been instrumental in pursuing the ITV stake.

Liberty Global has been actively expanding its operations in the UK.

The cable group headed by John Malone swooped for the independent production company All3media in a 550m joint takeover with Discovery Communications in May.

A sale by BSkyB of its ITV shareholding would complete the company's exit from an investment made in 2006, when the pay-TV broadcaster snapped up 17.9% of its terrestrial rival for 135p-a-share, or 940m.

That move was widely perceived at the time as an attempt to thwart a takeover of ITV by NTL, the cable group which eventually became part of Virgin Media - a suggestion denied by BSkyB at the time.

BSkyB was subsequently ordered by regulators to reduce its ITV shareholding to below 7.5% and fought a two-year legal battle before a final ruling by the Court of Appeal.

It complied with that instruction in February 2010, offloading the majority of its holding for just under 200m or 48.5p-a-share, crystallising a substantial loss.

ITV's shares are now trading at more than 183p, meaning that BSkyB would make a substantial profit on the sale of its remaining shares.

The possibility of a stake sale was recently highlighted by analysts at UBS, the investment bank.

BSkyB and ITV declined to comment. Liberty Global could not be reached.

The likely completion of the disposal by BSkyB on Thursday would mean it being announced the day after the prospect of a much larger deal emerged in the US.

21st Century Fox, which owns a large stake in BSkyB, the owner of Sky News, made an $80bn bid for Time Warner, owner of the Warner Bros film studio, last month.

The offer was rejected, but a surge in Time Warner's share price after the disclosure of the approach reflected expectations on Wall Street that 21st Century Fox would renew its interest.

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