Branson Lobbies UK Government over Sky's ITV Move

12 December 2006

LONDON: Proving there is nothing more petulant than a ubiquitous entrepreneur scorned, Sir Richard Branson continues to fume over satellite TV provider BSkyB's acquisition of a large slice of UK commercial broadcaster ITV.

The bearded perma-grinned mastermind behind the equally ubiquitous Virgin brand is ramping up pressure on the Blair administration to investigate the purchase.

Branson's Virgin Group is the biggest shareholder in cable provider NTL, which launched and subsequently abandoned a bid for the ailing TV giant [WARC News: 06-Dec-06] after News Corporation-controlled Sky stepped-in to grab a 17.9% 'spoiling' stake.

At which point ITV decided that NTL's offer "materially undervalued" the company and pulled the plug.

Branson is now demanding that trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling probe whether Sky's 17.9% stake in ITV constitutes "material influence".

Darling could ultimately force Sky to dispose of its shares, but only if the Office of Fair Trading examines the case and concludes there has been a change of control.

NTL has lodged similar complaints with the OFT and media watchdog Ofcom in an effort to mobilise opposition to Sky. Branson could be hoping NTL might still do a deal if the satellite business is compelled to give up its ITV stake.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff