RTL, Saban eye ITV stake

BSkyB must sell its 17.9% shareholding

Reports that European broadcast giant RTL and media mogul Haim Saban are teaming up to acquire satcaster BSkyB’s 17.9% stake in ITV sent shares in the British terrestrial web up 6% on Monday.

They hit a high of 70.2 pence ($1.39) before settling back to $1.34, a rise of 7 cents on the day, giving the company a market value of $5.2 billion. But even at that price, the sale would cost Rupert Murdoch-controlled BSkyB dear. ITV’s stock price has fallen by more than 40% since the satcaster bought the share for around $1.8 billion in November 2006 to block a bid by rival pay TV operator Virgin Media.

In January the British government ordered BSkyB, Europe’s biggest paybox by subscribers, to cut the holding to less than 7.5% due to competition fears. BSkyB is appealing.

Monday’s rise in ITV’s share price was triggered by a report in the Sunday Telegraph.

RTL has been linked with a possible bid for BSkyB’s ITV stake before when its stock price was worth around double its present price.

RTL, which owns the U.K.’s least watched terrestrial web, Five, likes its TV stations to be in either first or second place in the markets they operate in — and ITV fits that bill. If RTL does purchase the stake, it could pave the way for a bid for ITV, which some industry commentators reckon is in the cards despite the global credit squeeze.

Israeli-American Saban, famed for making a mint from the “Power Rangers” kids show, has a history of links with Murdoch’s media empire, having folded his shingle, Saban Entertainment, into Fox Family Worldwide, sold subsequently to Disney.

ITV, BSkyB, RTL and Saban all refused to comment.

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