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Will Independent Television become Sk-ITV?

A fortnight ago, BSkyB has spent a £940 million pounds to buy 17.9% of the shares in ITV plc.

A fortnight ago, BSkyB has spent a £940 million pounds to bu
published on UK Free TV

A fortnight ago, BSkyB has spent a 940 million pounds to buy 17.9% of the shares in ITV, the third channel company in England and Wales.

Just a few days before BBC chairman jumped ships to the commercial TV operator, BSkyB spent one billion pound to acquire the shares.

Over 70 members of parliament including former minsters - have put their name to a parliamentary motion to put pressure on the government to bring forward the pending review of public service broadcasting in the UK.

What's it worth?

For a start, BSkyB has overpaid by 191 million to buy these shares. But current the value of all the shares (market capitalisation) in BSkyB is currently 9,620m (ITV are worth 4,180m) which means that 9.8% of BSkyB's value is now held in ITV shares, and 2% of BSkyB's overall value has been wagered on ITV's stock rising.

However, Under Section 350 Communications Act 2003, the 'stop Murdoch' clause states that BSkyB cannot hold 20 per cent in ITV.

Sky business

BSkyB formed in November 1990 from the upstart Sky Television and square-dished British Satellite Broadcasting. It is partly owned by NewsCorp, which is effectively controlled and 29% owned by Rupert Murdoch. There are several businesses which run under the Sky banner:

  • Sky Subscriber Services Ltd: this company collects the revenue - 388 per year - from around 8 million subscribers in the UK and Ireland. This 3 billion collected each year is passed onto channel suppliers and to NDS Group (another NewsCorp company) who provide the encryption and decryption software, hardware and subscription cards.
  • British Sky Broadcasting SA, which leases the Astra satellite transponders used to supply Sky and non-Sky channels.
  • Sky In-Home Service Ltd, which installs and maintains the dishes and Digiboxes.
  • British Sky Broadcasting Ltd who provide the News, five Sports and ten Movie channels. The news service is provided directly, but the Sports rights are bought in from various sports governing bodies, and the movie rights are obtained from both Fox (another NewsCorp US company) and third party film studios. Sky also operate a number of music channels.
  • Three internet firms: Easynet Ltd, who provide the Broadband services, Sports Internet Group Ltd, who do online sports and betting services and Mykindaplace.com.


Sky also has 50% of UK channels of Nickelodeon, The History Channel, National Geographic and At The Races; 39% of Music Choice; 33% of MUTV and 25% of Paramount Comedy.

Sky have 70.2% of the digital TV subscribers in the UK (the remaining being with the NTL:Telewest) and collect 64% of the total TV subscription income in the UK.

The Movie channels account for around 2% of viewing, Sky Sports 4% of viewing, with All Sky channels counting for 9.3% of all UK viewing hours.

ITV's business

ITV plc owns all the Channel 3 franchise in the UK, as well as 16.9% of SMG who operate the same franchise in Scotland.

The company also owns 40% of ITN, the Channel 3 and 4 news providers and 33% of MUTV.

ITV has half of the 'gifted' space on Freeview multiplex 2 (which it shares with Channel 4) and owns all of multiplex A which is rented out to five and Top-Up TV.

Aside from the main ITV-1 channel which is broadcast on analogue TV around the UK, ITV has created four other channels for it's multiplex 2 space, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV, the Men and Motors satellite channel and the controversial ITV Play 'Quiz' channel.

In October, the viewing shares for the spot-advertisement funded channels was: ITV1: 20.2% , ITV2 2.2%, ITV3 1.4%. ITV4 0.6%, and CITV 0.6%.

Last year ITV closed its loss-making news channel to replace it with ITV Play. ITV Play is expected to bring in a 20m profit each year.

However, unlike Sky and Channel 4, and just like the BBC, ITV plc owns the rights to and produces many of the programs it transmits. This means it has assets in the form of programs and rights.

What does Sky owning almost 18% of ITV mean?

It may mean nothing! It is possible that James Murdoch just thought it was a great way for BSkyB to make some money on the stock market.

He recently called the British broadcasting establishment (who are they?) "authoritarian and elitist", which might just be code for "anti-American and anti-Trust".

But Sky subscriber growth has flattened, and the popularity of the once dominant subscription Sky Movie channels has diminished free-to-air Film4 has half the viewers with only one channel, and DVD sales are rising.

Sky has paid higher prices and makes less margin on the rights for its Sports channels, and rising broadband speeds raise the possibility of IPTV services outflanking the satellite delivery system.

Freeview has been a success, and there are three Sky advertisement-funded channels. However, these are really 'barker' channels for the subscription offerings.

However, Sky missed owning the fifth analogue TV channel, and missed an opportunity to punt it subscription channels at non-Freeview homes.

So, Sky may be prevented from owning 20% of ITV, but that does not mean it cannot do a deal! There are several possible outcomes.

Freesat

Sky had to provide a Freesat system because the regulator told it so. However the system is priced higher than the entry-level subscription system, which means that you have to have to more-or-less hate Sky to go for Freesat. Most Freesat users are lapsed Sky subscribers.

The BBC and ITV were to launch a Freesat system of their own, which was to launch this year and was delayed for technical reasons. I would expect BBC/ITV Freesat to be scrapped.

ITV Play

Sky may wish to combine resources with ITV Play with launch other participation TV channels, perhaps using ITV brands.

ITN

There are only three TV news providers in the UK. BBC News is well funded from the licence fee and News 24 is the most watched news channel in the UK. Sky News is still popular and provides news for five.

ITN, having lost it's news channel might be merged with Sky News, but this would reduce the number of independent news organisations to the levels they were in the 1960s.

SkITV?

A combined Sky and ITV? The light blue indicates BSkyB's 18%

Many people have pointed out that the ITV brand is not in good shape. Many people still haven't forgiven them for the ITV Digital debacle, in particular the way ITV dropped its sports channels and left many local football clubs with just 4.

Changing ITV to a Sky name might energise the brand, and could further suggest to the 25% of homes that have not yet moved to multi-channel television that Sky might be a good idea after all!

Your comments, suggestions and questions are as always welcome.

Update

Jilted ITV partner, Richard Branson is to ask the Alistair Darling to look into ITVs new relationship with BSkyB, in particular what it means for ITN.

There is the small point that if Mr Branson was actually interested in News pluratity he could sink some of his piles of cash into a Virgin News channel...

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