ITV’s share price reached an all-time low on Wednesday after it emerged that the UK’s main commercial broadcaster wants BSkyB to be stripped of its entire 17.9 per cent share in the company.
If ITV’s wishes were fulfilled, it would cost the satellite broadcaster about £300m.
In a submission to the Competition Commission, ITV said that only by forcing BSkyB to divest itself of its whole stake could they avoid “a substantial lessening of competition”.
ITV’s argument went on to concede it could accept a low shareholding, citing 4.9 per cent, but said anything more would allow BSkyB, which is 39.1 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, too much influence on investment decisions.
“Any meaningful shareholding in BSkyB’s hands would give it the ability . . . to lead a blocking group of shareholders or to act as the swing vote and in that way to exert influence over ITV,” the company said.
The controversy arose almost a year ago when BSkyB, in what most observers saw as a move to prevent NTL (now Virgin Media) from buying ITV, bought its stake of 696m shares at 135p each, a total of £940m.
Based on Wednesday’s price of 91.7p, down 4.1p, BSkyB would lose £303m, £64m more than was the case 36 hours ago.
At its low point, ITV shares were at 91.4p.
Michael Grade, who took over as executive chairman last January, has thrilled much of the television industry with his vision for a revived ITV, but investors have not been so moved.
One analyst, who asked not to be identified, said: “This all-time low is not all about the BSkyB stake, although there is no obvious buyer for those shares and the prospect of an 18 per cent overhang is not helping ITV’s cause.
“But there is a generally weak market and everything in the UK, which is consumer-facing, particularly if it has high dependence on advertising, has been hard-hit in recent weeks.”
BSkyB has offered to put a portion of its stake into trust but says there is no need for significant divestment.
Get alerts on News Corp when a new story is published