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Bid talk ups ITV stock

NTL to offer up $9.5 bil for b'caster

LONDON — ITV, Blighty’s embattled terrestrial broadcaster, saw its stock price rise Monday as reports suggested cabler NTL could bid up to £1.30 ($2.48) a share as part of its merger overtures.

NTL is understood to be assembling a $9.5 billion bid for ITV, which would value ITV stock at around $2.29 — lower than the $2.48 a share bid rejected by the ITV board in spring.Talks between the two media giants are expected this week.

Reports claim NTL has lined up Brit Michael Jackson, now working in New York running the programming arm of internet giant IAC, to head the merged outfit.

In early trading Monday, ITV stock climbed to $2.18 after closing at $2.12 on Friday, the day after it emerged that NTL had approached ITV about a merger.

Despite the price hike, most analysts and commentators are dismissive about a tie-up between the two, both of which are struggling to come to terms with the impact of new media.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, commentator Steve Hewlett, a former program topper at ITV station Carlton, likened the situation between NTL and ITV to “two old drunks snuggling up on a park bench.”

Meanwhile, RTL chief exec Gerhard Zeiler told a London conference Monday that his pan-European broadcaster had not thrown its hat into the ring for ITV, contrary to reports.

Speaking at the European Media Leaders Summit in London’s Landmark Hotel, Zeiler dismissed these reports as “pure speculation.” But he didn’t deny interest in the deal: “I don’t rule anything out,” he said.

In his keynote address, Zeiler made a bullish case for Europe’s traditional free-to-air broadcasters in the digital world, arguing that their established brands give them a stronger position than new entrants.

In that context, he was positive about the long-term prospects for ITV to emerge from its slump.

“Will that be a turnaround in two or three months?” he said. “Definitely not. But to have a brand like ITV, and to be still by far the most successful commercial broadcaster in the U.K., why should they not have a future? If you say they don’t have a future, the whole free-to-air industry all over Europe doesn’t have a future.”

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