NTL Lawyers Prepare ITV Intervention Case

28 November 2006

LONDON: Delaware incorporated NTL, the US-owned cable company that operates exclusively in the UK, is determined to secure the intervention of media regulator Ofcom in an attempt to counter BSkyB's surprise share swoop on ITV - the object of its merger affections.

Thwarted by Clan Murdoch's move - in which the family secured a 17.9% stake in the ailing commercial broadcaster - NTL and its largest stockholder Sir Richard Branson are seething at what they deem the deliberate derailment of their attempt to negotiate a friendly merger with ITV.

Shortly after the Murdoch share grab, ITV's board rejected NTL's approach as having "little, if any, strategic logic" [WARC News: 22-Nov-06], adding that it "materially under-valued ITV".

Branson has called on UK politicians to "stand up to" Rupert Murdoch [whose family controls BSkyB], arguing that the mogul's investment in ITV "has already had a material influence on the company and damaged the plurality of the British media".

To this end a phalanx of corporate lawyers beavered through the weekend and into this week to put the finishing touches to NTL's case that BSkyB's £940 million ($1.78bn; €1.38bn) investment represents a "change of control" at ITV.

If the legal eagles can convince Ofcom that this is so, it could invoke an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading on grounds of "public interest" - a factor forced on the Blair administration in a tradeoff with a rebellious House of Lords during the passage of the 2002 Communications Act.

Meantime, the OFT says it is "evaluating the situation" - although it has yet to receive a formal request to do so from any of the parties.

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