Satellite broadcaster BSkyB bid for ITV will fuel more consolidation in the industry, believe analysts Ovum. “Clearly there is a belief in boardrooms that they have to strike now. The fear is that if they don’t, the hunter will become the hunted as the final round of consolidation leaves only a few big conglomerates standing,” says Mike Cansfield, principal analyst at the firm.
Satellite broadcaster BSkyB has spent £940m amassing a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV – a company which rival, cable television operator NTL is in talks with about a possible takeover. By buying just under 18 per cent of ITV, it has seized enough ground to make it difficult for NTL to continue its takeover plans – while at the same time not falling foul of regulators which allow it to own no more than 20 per cent on competition grounds.
Sir Richard Branson, who became NTL's largest shareholder after its acquisition of Virgin Mobile, has called on the Office of Fair Trading to intervene and force BSkyB to sell its stake saying it was a “blatant attempt to distort competition”.
Cansfield says: “The events of the past week show two things. Firstly, it shows that the consolidation process is now entering its second stage. In Stage one we had the ‘easy and obvious’ mergers – Cable & Wireless/energis; SBC/ AT&T/BellSouth; Neuf Telecom/Cegetel.
“In stage two we will get more complex cross-sector mergers – NTL/Virgin having already led the way. The fight for control of ITV is a second stage deal. We should expect more second stage deals of this type and not just involving the telecoms and media sectors. Software and telecoms mergers would make just as much sense.
“Secondly, this affair goes to show that the consolidation of the industry is not going to be straightforward. There are lots of companies who want to play the leading consolidator role, so we can expect a fight for control of ITV is going to be a game of three-dimensional game of chess.”
Shares in television broadcaster ITV fell by as much as 5 per cent on Monday amid uncertainty over the company’s future.