British Sky Broadcasting still wants to hold on to its stake in ITV, but will wait until the last moment before deciding whether to continue its legal fight to do so, said Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of the satellite broadcaster.
The Competition Appeal Tribunal last month upheld the Competition Commission’s original decision that the 17.9 per cent holding imposed a restriction on the UK television market, and the satellite broadcaster has until December 1 to take the case to the Court of Appeal.
Mr Darroch told an audience of investors at the Morgan Stanley technology, media and telecoms conference in Barcelona on Wednesday that the company’s position on its investment, which cost £940m two years ago and is worth about £215m today, remained the same.
“We have got a few weeks in terms of deciding what we do about the Competition Appeal Tribunal’s decision. And we will take that time to decide,” he said.
“But our position, of being willing to hold the stake in the long term, hasn’t changed.”
There has been speculation that BSkyB would try to extenuate the process of holding on to the ITV stake in order to minimise the loss on the shares. It has already written it down by £616m in its accounts.
But the company indicated that there are other reasons for its position.
A senior BSkyB official on Wednesday said: “I think some people who are talking about tactics and why we would want to go to further appeal are forgetting that in this case we believe we are right.
“We think there is no reason to believe that this stake affects competition in the UK market and we believe that the decision as it stands affects our freedom to invest.”
On stage, Mr Darroch was asked about the company’s interests in the UK broadband business of Tiscali, purchase of which would make a combined concern into the largest residential supplier in the country, Mr Darroch said that BSkyB would not make any moves unnecessarily.
“We don’t feel we need to make any acquisitions, therefore we are able to think more opportunistically,” he said.
Questioned on cost control, Andrew Griffiths, chief financial officer, said that in some of their apparently fixed costs, there was some flexibility. He gave the example of their film-buying budget, where “tens of millions of pounds” could be saved by not making discretionary purchases from independent film-makers or in airing the winning film from major film festivals such as Cannes, as has been their practice in the past.
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