ITV rejects NTL merger offer

UK broadcaster ITV rejected a merger proposal from cable giant NTL on Tuesday, just days after Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB took a stake in the company.

ITV said it rejected the deal, which could have been worth around £4.7bn, on the grounds that the “offer materially undervalues ITV” and there was little benefit to be gained by the broadcaster undertaking such a move.

“Whereas there is obvious appeal to NTL in gaining control of ITV’s substantial and successful business,” the company said in a statement.

The rejection will likely irk Richard Branson further, who is already crying foul over BSkyB’s acquisition of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV last week, just days after NTL approached the broadcast company with its offer.

Branson’s Virgin Group is the largest shareholder in NTL, with a 10.5 per cent stake acquired when Virgin Mobile merged with the cable company earlier this year. Branson has labelled BSkyB’s move as an attempt to stifle competition and called for a regulatory review.

In response, Ofcom said on Tuesday that it “has invited ITV and BSkyB to comment on whether BSkyB’s acquisition of shares in ITV represents a change of control of one or more of the licences held by ITV.”

Ofcom’s definition of a change of control includes factors encompassing levels of shareholding, voting rights, management controls and funding arrangements and will conduct a deeper review if such a change is considered to have taken place.

Ofcom will also be liaising with the Office of Fair Trading on its assessment of any merger that results out of the deal and said that in the event of a merger the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may ask Ofcom to consider whether there are any broadcasting and cross-media public interest considerations.

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