RTL favorite to take BSkyB stake

The stock price of U.K. terrestrial giant ITV surged by more than 14% as reports of a possible bid continue to make waves. The price reached 43.7 pence (86.9¢) in afternoon trading Monday. having closed at 38.3 pence (76.2 cents) on Friday.

Pan-European giant RTL, owner of Blighty’s Five, was tipped as the favorite to buy BSkyB’s 17.9% stake in ITV as a possible prelude to a full bid for the under-pressure broadcaster.

A joint bid with a private-equity combo may be in the cards, but others reported to have spoken to ITV include U.S. broadcasters, notably NBC, Italo media giant Mediaset and Israeli-American investor Haim Saban. Significantly, John de Mol, co-founder of Endemol, told the Financial Times that he wouldn’t rule out a bid for ITV.

An ITV spokeswoman declined to comment, but it is an open secret in Blighty that strategic investors have approached the web regarding the BSkyB stake.

This is likely to come on the market in the near future following a ruling by regulators, who which regard the paybox’s investment in ITV as anticompetitive and will force a sale.

An industry insider said that RTL’s ambitions to become a bigger player in British TV were being frustrated by Five being in a state of limbo until CEO Dawn Airey arrives – a move not expected until next April because of the terms of her contract with ITV.

Airey shocked the British TV community by suddenly quitting ITV in April having spent just seven months at the company.

“Five is going nowhere at the moment,” said the source. “Five is approximately worth the same as BSkyB’s stake in ITV so a straight swap cannot be ruled out.

“BSkyB could then wrap Five into Sky One, but RTL would have to balance the upside against what an enhanced Channel Five would do to ITV’s long-term competitiveness.”

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