Grade Steps Up Pressure on Murdoch to Sell Sky's Stake in ITV

19 November 2007

LONDON: Michael Grade, executive chairman of Britain's largest commercial broadcaster ITV, may be the Big Kahuna of UK television but in any bout with world media heavyweight champ Rupert Murdoch he is a mere flyweight.

Grade has stepped up his campaign to strongarm the chieftain of Clan Murdoch into disposing of BSkyB's 17.9% stake in ITV, acquired November 2006 in a dawn raid to derail merger talks between the broadcaster and NTL:Telewest - since when the latter has rebranded as Virgin Media.

In a submission to UK communications regulator Ofcom, Grade claims that Sky is using the stake "to influence events" to the detriment of other shareholders.

He demanded that Sky be required to dispose of the stake in its entirety, citing the "material influence" this gives the News Corporation-controlled UK satellite monopoly in ITV's future investment plans.

But, addressing a recent Morgan Stanley tupperware party in Barcelona, the chieftain's younger son James, who many perceive to run Sky by remote control, denied that the stake had been snatched as a commercial wrecking tactic.

"We think the ITV franchise is a valuable one," he said. "We intend to be a long-term shareholder to get returns from that, and we'll see how that goes."

He also refuted rumours that poppa would swap the ITV stake with Bertelsmann-owned RTL Group in exchange for the latter's UK channel Five.

In the canyons of Wall Street and London EC2, some haruspices say such a swap would be a canny exit strategy if competition regulators order Sky to dispose of its ITV holding.

This was dismissed with an airy wave of the hand by Murdoch minor. "There's this big theory that Sky's going to buy channel Five; that's what Sky really wants," he said "I'll just tell you right now, it isn't."

Or as one-time British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said: "I never deny; I never contradict; I sometimes forget."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff