Court orders BSkyB to cut ITV stake

Pay TV operator must reduce share to 7.5%

LONDON — The U.K. court of appeal Thursday ordered News Corp. paybox BSkyB to cut its shareholding in commercial web ITV from 17.9% to less than 7.5% to comply with competition regs.

The ruling is a blow to BSkyB, which said it “will review the judgment.”

BSkyB, ITV’s biggest single stockholder, bought the holding for £940 million ($1.5 billion) in November 2006 to derail a bid by NTL, subsequently relaunched as Virgin Media, to buy ITV.

But the value of ITV stock has plunged since then, landing BSkyB with a potential loss of $809 million.

The pay giant has consistently argued that the stake does not breach U.K. media ownership rules because it is less than the 20% allowed.

However, the Competition Commission had already ruled that the holding gave it undue influence in the U.K. media and was contrary to the public interest.

In a statement, BSkyB said: “We will review the judgment and order carefully and consider our next steps in due course.”

One option open to BSkyB is to take the case to the Supreme Court.

However, if it sells the holding, the favorite to make a bid is RTL Group, the pan-European broadcast giant that owns loss-making U.K. terrestrial Five.

It could then merge ITV and Five and thus fulfill predictions of consolidation in the economically fragile U.K. TV market.

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