GÜTERSLOH, Germany: Speculation is mounting that Bertelsmann – Europe's largest media company – is eyeing Britain's ITV.

The grapevine began to throb when the German giant hinted at the possible sale of a 15% stake in Luxembourg-based TV titan RTL Group - in which it is the controlling shareholder.

This fuelled rumours that Bertelsmann plans to bid for the UK's largest commercial broadcaster.

According to cfo Thomas Rabe, Bertelsmann is prepared to lower its RTL stake from 90.3% to 75% to raise cash.

But neither he nor his colleagues openly admit to an interest in the vulnerable UK broadcaster whose stock has languished since last September when competition regulators ordered NewsCorp-controlled BSkyB to sell over half its 17.9% ITV stake. 

ITV is also battling an ongoing decline, both in audience ratings and ad revenues.

The rumours helped boost ITV's stock by 4.5%, closing Thursday at £0.44 – way below last September's £1.12 and the £1.48 at which they floated at the broadcaster's formation by merger in February 2004.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff