BSkyB’s 17.9% holding in commercial broadcaster ITV is “against the public interest”, according to the Competition Commission. The watchdog said the stake was likely to lead to a substantial lessening of competition as it gave BSkyB the ability to influence ITV’s strategy.
“As a pay-TV operator, BSkyB faces competition from the free-to-air TV offer, of which ITV is an important part. BSkyB would therefore have both the ability and incentive to take advantage of opportunities to weaken ITV or prevent it from taking actions that would threaten BSkyB’s interests,” said Competition Commission Chairman and Chairman of the Inquiry Group, Peter Freeman. He added that the Commission saw no issues in terms of advertising or news provision.
Since acquiring the stake for £940 million last year, BSkyB has been uncharacteristically passive, playing up to its statement that it would be a “supportive shareholder”. But the original purchase was seen as a means to prevent a merger or acquisition between ITV and cablenet Virgin Media.
The Competition Commission has given BSkyB and other interested parties until October 15 to offer possible solutions to the position, including a divestment by BSkyB of all or part of the holding, and until October 23 to give their reaction.