MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: MURDOCH’S EUROPEAN PLANS - BSkyB and Canal Plus in first round of media dating game. Has Murdoch finally found a partner with the French network? By Alasdair Reid

Not so long ago, the business pages of one national newspaper charted a week in the roller-coaster existence of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. It was designed to show the scope and power of the organisation, but it also graphically illustrated the extent to which the company keeps spinning, even when it appears to be standing still.

Not so long ago, the business pages of one national newspaper

charted a week in the roller-coaster existence of Rupert Murdoch’s media

empire. It was designed to show the scope and power of the organisation,

but it also graphically illustrated the extent to which the company

keeps spinning, even when it appears to be standing still.



In a week in which no concrete deals were announced or even on the

cards, there were hundreds of stories about Murdoch’s companies -

speculation about talks, smokescreens created and waves of ’Rupert is

coming’ hysteria washing back and forwards across at least one corner of

the globe.



Murdoch is a man whose reputation precedes him, but he makes the most of

it and is not above laying the odd false trail. That’s why some analysts

are reluctant to take the news of BSkyB’s merger talks with Canal+ at

face value. What’s not in question is Murdoch’s determination to

establish a bridgehead on continental Europe. He’s cracked America, the

Far East and Australia, but has yet to make an impression on mainland

Europe.



Having failed to sign a pact with Leo Kirch in Germany and having seen

successive Italian invasion attempts rebuffed, the next obvious route is

via the Pas de Calais. Canal+ would make an unbelievably good fit. It is

arguably the world’s leading pay-TV company, with digital TV platforms

in France, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway,

Denmark, Sweden and Finland. It is also an impatient company.



It’s big, but not big enough. The company wants to join the superleague

of media owners. And for that, you need not only a US presence but a

Hollywood film studio.



The chairman and chief executive of Canal+, Pierre Lescure, has

continued to insist that he needs a strategic alliance with ’an Anglo

Saxon’ company.



Murdoch’s future is about digital pay-per-view and, like Canal+, sport

is a big business driver. He also owns Fox. So, add those elements

together and you have a done deal.



We’ll see. If nothing else, all the speculation has succeeded in

flushing one bird from the covert. Within hours of the story reaching

the newspapers, Karel van Miert, the European Commission’s competition

regulator, stated that a deal would almost certainly trigger a

full-scale investigation.



Van Miert was also prompted to make a statement on another topic with

direct relevance to Murdoch’s expansion plans. From now on, he stated,

the European Commission would investigate all major deals between sports

governing bodies (especially football) and TV companies.



One of the motivations behind a BSkyB merger with Canal+ would be the

development of an iron grip on European sports rights - particularly

football.



Canal+ owns Paris St Germain and has strong ties with Juventus; BSkyB

may soon own Manchester United.



The European Champions League, which looks set to become the world’s top

football tournament, could start to look like a works outing for

CanalSky+ teams. So van Miert would almost certainly seek to block a

merger - especially as he has put down these markers so quickly. In

fact, it looks a very stupid proposition indeed.



Is Murdoch creating yet another smokescreen for his true intentions?



It may not be half as Machiavellian as that.



Look at the result of last year’s unacceptable European deal - the

proposed merger of Germany’s two digital television platforms, Leo

Kirch’s DF1 and CLT-Ufa’s Premiere. Van Miert was unequivocal in

blocking it and stuck to his guns despite the political row that

developed in Germany.



Last week, presumably having lost interest and following lobbying that

sought to convince van Miert that Europe needs big media owners to keep

the Americans at bay, he waved through a restructured deal. CanalSky+

may not be such a stupid idea. Perhaps all Murdoch will need is

patience.



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