UK authorities still to weigh in
European regulators on Tuesday cleared the proposed acquisition of British pay TV operator BSkyB by U.S. media conglomerate News Corp., but noted their ruling doesn’t affect a separate investigation in the U.K.
The European Commission said “the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area or any substantial part of it.”
However, Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said it was up to U.K. authorities to decide whether the planned takeover would affect media plurality in the country, following complaints from several competitors that it would give Rupert Murdoch’s media empire too much sway in British media.
News Corp. already has full ownership of four major British newspapers: The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, and the News of the World. The Sun is the biggest-selling daily paper, and New of the World tops the Sunday circulation figures.
News Corp. currently has an almost 40% stake in British Sky Broadcasting Group and wants to buy the rest of the shares in the company.
BSkyB’s board of directors, which is chaired by Murdoch’s son James, this summer rebuffed News Corp.’s initial offer of 700 pence per share, which valued the company at 12 billion pounds ($19 billion). The directors said, however, that they would have backed an offer above 800 pence per share.
U.K. business secretary, Vince Cable, has asked Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom, to investigate whether a takeover would hurt the nation’s media industry by reducing the number of voices. Ofcom has until Dec. 31 to complete is inquiry.
The British Broadcasting Corp., the Telegraph newspapers, the Daily Mail and internet provider BT Group are among the media competitors who oppose the News Corp. bid.
BSkyB, which owns the prized rights to broadcast England’s Premier League soccer matches, accounts for two-thirds of pay TV subscribers in Britain.
News Corp. said in a statement that it “welcomes today’s decision by the European Commission clearing unconditionally its proposed acquisition of the shares in BSkyB that it does not already own.”