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Murdoch sweetens offer to parent Hughes

NEW YORK — It’s been a rocky courtship, but News Corp. and DirecTV may tie the knot after all as the satcaster’s parent, Hughes Electronics, was apparently highly receptive to a sweetened offer by Rupert Murdoch at a board meeting Monday.

One optimistic insider thinks a deal could be announced as early as mid-May. “We won’t see anything this week. Possibly in the next two weeks or so,” he said.

Hughes parent General Motors, which is holding a regularly scheduled board meeting today, has the ultimate say in whether News Corp. and Hughes hook up. The automaker had a handshake deal with Murdoch months ago, but that was derailed by objections from Hughes chairman Michael T. Smith and some shareholders.

Trimming stake

While not putting any more cash on the table, Murdoch has agreed to pare back his ownership stake in the new venture, a combination of Hughes’ DirecTV and News Corp.’s Sky Global Network, to 30% from 35%.

“This is a whole different ballgame,” said another insider.

Microsoft will pitch in $3 billion in cash. Liberty Media is a big investor, too.

It’s not clear if the revised offer addresses major concerns at GM and Hughes that a merger not carry significant tax consequences or injure GM’s credit rating.

Sky Global is News Corp.’s worldwide satellite platform, which lacks a U.S. presence as yet. DirecTV is the nation’s largest satcaster.

A GM spokeswoman said the company’s primary goal is “to maximize value for shareholders.” She said the GM board will be briefed Tuesday on the status of the Hughes deliberations. Its next regularly scheduled meet is the annual meeting in June.

Reps for News Corp. and Hughes declined to comment.

News Corp. stock rose nearly 5% Monday to $38.40. Hughes shares gained 1.2% to $21.25.

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