Rupe rips Brit idea

Murdoch denies interest in broadcasters C5 or ITV

LONDON — BSkyB chairman Rupert Murdoch says he is “not interested” in acquiring broadcasters Channel 5 or ITV once cross-media regulations in Britain are relaxed next year.

Speaking Friday at the satcaster’s annual general meeting, Murdoch said: “We are not interested in terrestrial. It is interesting there has been a lot of talk about it. The only company that is capable of buying ITV would be Viacom.”

Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone confirmed Thursday the company had no plans to buy an U.K. broadcaster, but he did not rule out the possibility in the future. “We will monitor developments very closely,” he said.

Murdoch is presently barred from buying a Blighty TV station because he already owns newspapers in the market.

Commenting on the proposed acquisition of Italian pay TV platform Telepiu from cash-strapped Vivendi Universal, Murdoch said he expects the paybox to be more profitable than BSkyB in the long term. The company returned to profit amid record subscriber growth for the first three months ended Sept. 30.

However, he denied he wanted a terrestrial TV station in Germany, saying, “We’ve had our fingers burned there; we’re not looking at anything at the current time.” BSkyB lost $1.27 billion on bankrupt German media giant Kirch’s pay TV web Premiere.

The global media mogul also said he had no immediate plans to buy U.S. satellite group DirecTV, which is expected to go back on the market after regulators blocked its nearly $19 billion merger with EchoStar. News Corp. failed to buy DirecTV a year ago after EchoStar came in with a last-minute offer.

News Corp. is not allowed to hold talks with DirecTV while EchoStar is still technically in exclusive negotiations. Any talks would automatically trigger a break-up fee of $593 million, according to Murdoch.

The topper’s careful approach continues his prudent stance on News Corp.’s plans for DirecTV outlined in New York on Tuesday when he presented boffo first-quarter fiscal 2003 net profits.

“We frankly don’t know yet if and when (DirecTV) will be offered to us,” he said then. “But if it is, it could take the best part of year before a deal could be consummated. Whatever we do, we will act very carefully and not take any risks.”

Murdoch said that the most likely and straightforward acquisition strategy would be to bid for GM’s 30% stake in DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics.

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