BSkyB Faces Anti-Trust Referral Over ‘Anti-Competitive’ ITV Stake

BSkyB’s acquisition in November of a 17.9 percent stake in leading-but-ailing UK commercial TV network ITV, unsurprisingly, has been referred to the Competition Commission. The News Corp-owned satellite broadcaster’s last-minute £940 million ($1.8 billion) purchase was widely seen as a spoiler to an unlikely £5 ($9.4) billion acquisition of all of ITV from ntl (prior to its reformation as Virgin Media). Now, after media regulator Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading expressed concern over BSkyB’s new influence and its scupper tactics, prompted in part by continued complaints from Virgin Media, Trade and Industry secretary Alistair Darling has ordered the commission to launch a full investigation.

The behavior of BSkyB, which also operates PVR, broadband and telephony service, has already incurred regulatory wrath on two other counts this year. Its decision to yank several of its channels from Virgin Media’s cable platform (successfully enticing away many subscribers missing out on Lost and 24) and its separate intention to pull channels from the Freeview digital terrestrial platform to make way for its own subscription offerings (Freeview is a JV operated on goodwill) prompted Ofcom in March to launch a wide-ranging review of the entire pay-TV market. BSkyB may be more likely to face action over its ITV stake than its fierce competition with Virgin – the run-up to the commission referral in February may give it time to consider off-loading its share.