Rupert Murdoch Plans $14 Billion European Pay TV Merger (Report)

8:04 AM PST 05/10/2014 by Georg Szalai , Erik Hayden
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Rupert Murdoch

Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland would reportedly be acquired by BSkyB from 21st Century Fox.

Rupert Murdoch is looking to combine British Sky Broadcasting Group with Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland, according to a new report. 

The European pay TV units would be acquired by BSkyB from 21st Century Fox in a deal valued at $14 billion, Bloomberg reported on Saturday, citing several unidentified sources. 

The BSkyB talks with Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland are said to be ongoing, with a potential deal made over the summer, Bloomberg said. The report was seconded by The Financial Times, which cited sources stating the deal "is at the early stages of consideration."

21st Century Fox declined to comment on the report to THR. BSkyB couldn't immediately be reached.

Before the split of 21st Century Fox and News Corp, Murdoch also considered the idea of a combined "Sky Europe," including BSkyB, Sky Deutschland in Germany and Italy's Sky Italia. Murdoch had looked to acquire full control of BSkyB, in which Fox currently owns a 39 percent stake, but had to drop the bid amid the phone-hacking scandal.

Last summer, James Murdoch, now co-COO of Fox, said the company indeed previously held talks about possibly consolidating the three Sky pay-TV businesses in Europe.‎ "The industrial logic is still very much there for that," as the current ownership structure is "not optimal." Fox has taken full control of or sold other assets to clarify its ownership of businesses.

‎In March, he was again asked about the recurring suggestions that Fox could acquire full control of BSkyB or other European pay TV assets, saying: "At this point, we are pretty happy with where we are." The time and opportunity that existed a‎ few years ago is over, he added, but signaled that the company would keep all options open.

UBS analyst Polo Tang in January suggested the idea of creating a pan-European pay TV giant could ‎become reality this year or next.

"To overcome political resistance to a deal, BSkyB could remain listed but have its operating assets injected into Sky Europe in return for a majority stake in the larger entity," he said in a report in January.

In practice, the three European Sky companies have been working closely together for a number of years. BSkyB, Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland recently greenlit their first three-way co-production, a superhero series based on the hit Italian comicbook Diabolik. Sky Italia's much-hyped new mafia drama Gomorrah will air in the U.K. on BSkyB and on Sky Deutschland in Germany.

The three companies also share some technology in such areas as set-top boxes.‎ But a combination could allow for additional cost savings and pan-European bids for sports and other content rights, analysts have said.

"We’ve made no secret of our belief over the years that we think the Skys are strong together,” James Murdoch said on an earnings conference call earlier this week. “Currently our focus is on operating each of those businesses as best we can.”

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