News Corp tables intention to buy BSkyB in Europe

UPDATE - News Corporation has notified the European Commission about its intention to buy the 61% of satellite broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own, Media Week can reveal.

Rupert Murdoch: chief executive officer of News Corporation
Rupert Murdoch: chief executive officer of News Corporation

An official note of intent is due to appear on the European Commission’s website tomorrow that will formalise ambitions of the Rupert Murdoch-led News Corporation to fully control the broadcaster.

The upcoming move effectively launches phase one of an initial 25-day legal process that will have far reaching implications for the British media.  

Speculation surrounding the move has been building since Murdoch’s global media empire made an initial cash offer to the British Sky Broadcasting group on 10 June.

Despite the initial proposal being rejected for 'undervaluing' the satellite company, both parties agreed to work together to proceed with the regulatory process "in order to facilitate a proposed transaction".

News Corporation's confirmation of filing will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union in the coming days. 

The EC, led by competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, will have 25 working days from Thursday (4 November) to decide whether or not the proposed acquisition requires further investigation.

News Corporation remains confident that it can demonstrate that the combination of BSkyB with News Corporation, which owns News International, does not pose a serious threat to competition.

However, Ofcom is now expected to be asked to formally review News Corporation's bid for BSkyB.

In the UK, under a merged company, Sky News could be brought more closely into line with the company's UK newspapers; The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World.

Sky's most recent October update revealed it will hit its target of 10 million subscribers in the UK by the end of the year.

It is understood that in parallel with the 25 working day review by the European Commission, the UK department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) will also be considering the implications of any deal.

If the deal is referred to the local competition level, an additional 10 day consultation period will be added.

Last month, a collaboration of British media owners joined forces against News Corp’s bid in an open letter to the UK business secretary, Vince Cable, that tabled concerns for media plurality in the UK.

The letter was signed by representatives from the Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group, Channel 4, BT and, controversially, the BBC.

The business secretary will make any ruling this month (November), and come to a decision if further investigation is required that will have to be rubber-stamped by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cable will have to subject any potential deal to the media plurality test, designed to ascertain if rival newspapers and broadcasters were substantially placed at risk of cuts or closure following the acquisition that would result in restricting democratic debate.

News Corp will be concerned that any reference to Ofcom, and then potentially the Competition Commission, could seriously delay or even prevent the deal.

Last month, BSkyB chief executive Jeremy Darroch admitted the satellite TV company has so far spent £2m in less than four months on "advisory fees" relating to News Corporation's bid to take full ownership.

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