Antitrust Delays to News Corp., Sky Deal to Cost Rupert Murdoch

British Culture Secretary says the decision "will take as long as it takes."


LONDON - In a move that will likely make the deal more expensive for Rupert Murdoch, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Thursday that there is "no fixed deadline" for a decision on News Corporation's planned takeover of BSkyB.

Further examination of the antitrust and media plurality concerns arising from the deal - which is expected to value Sky at over $12billion - could take over a month, well beyond guidance on the original timetable.

Speaking at a briefing with journalists, Hunt said his department was examining over 40,000 submissions to his proposal to allow BSkyB to hive off Sky News as a condition of signing off on the deal, and that the issue was being thoroughly evaluated.

Although the bulk of submissions have been identical protests from pressure groups, Hunt said the complexity of guaranteeing the future of Sky News outside of News Corp's direct control was significant.

"The agreements have to be right. To be able to accept a solution that I don't have to refer to (antitrust regulator) the Competition Commission, I have to be satisfied that the solution is robust and sustainable over the long term," he said.

"It has taken longer than I expected, but I have been clear from the start that we will go through the process completely and thoroughly. It will take as long as it takes."

Earlier expectations were for the deal to be concluded by the end of April. Shares in BSkyB have steadily risen to 844p ($13.60) since the deal was proposed almost a year ago, meaning that Rupert Murdoch's opening offer of 700p per share is woefully below the current Market price of the hugely profitable satellite player. Some analysts predict that the price that Sky's non-executive directors will accept could be as high as 1050p per share, more than 30 percent higher than Murdoch's original offer.

At the same time the continued weakness of the dollar in relation to U.K. sterling means that the deal is also more expensive on currency terms.