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Murdoch rumor stokes Antena 3 stock

Speculation suggests News Corp. may stage a raid

Antena 3’s stock price closed up 4.4% Wednesday on Spain’s Madrid bourse, boosted by renewed rumors that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. will buy a controlling stake in the terrestrial web.

Scuttlebutt may not be true: Murdoch is said to have his hands full trying to buy up the 19% of News Corp. owned by John Malone’s Liberty Media.

But a move to buy out current controlling owner DeAPlaneta would make sense on political and — depending on price paid — economic grounds.

Antena 3 isn’t likely to try to halt the rumor mill’s spinning. Battered by tough comparables after a strong 2005, plus diminishing audience share, Antena 3 could with do a stock fillip.

The political case for News Corp. buying into Antena 3 is clear. With general elections probably taking place in Spain in 2008, Spain’s Popular Party opposition lacks a right-leaning broadcaster to drum up votes.

Jose Maria Aznar, former head of the PP and Spanish prime minister from 1996-2004, is a member of the board of directors of News Corp.

Despite a generally dropping stock price and slow 2% second-quarter revenue growth, Antena 3 turns a healthy profit in a still-immature Spanish TV ad market. First-half profits came in at E129.8 million ($173.9 million).

Italian publishing and media company De Agostini, which partners Spain’s Planeta Group in DeAPlaneta, is also believed to want to retrench in Italy.

If News Corp. were to buy Antena 3, it could perhaps snag some Spanish league soccer rights from the Sogecable-controlled Audiovisual Sport in return for helping pay TV giant Sogecable reduce the cost of its movie deals with Hollywood’s major studios.