BSkyB-ITV deal under microscope


LONDON -- Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alistair Darling on Thursday referred the BSkyB Group's acquisition of a 17.9% stake in ITV to the Competition Commission, triggering a detailed examination of the satcaster's role in the television market.

The inquiry, which is expected to take as long as six months to complete, will conduct a detailed investigation into the effects of Sky's November 2006 swoop on ITV shares, examining both competition and public interest issues as well as the specified public interest consideration relating to the plurality of persons with control of media enterprises.

If the deal is ruled against, BSkyB may be forced to offload all or part of the stake, despite being under the 20% ownership threshold imposed by existing media ownership legislation.

In a statement to Parliament, Darling said that he had made the decision to refer the deal on advice from two earlier inquiries into the deal.

"My decision reflects consideration of the reports I have received from both the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom and of other representations I have received about this matter. On the basis of the evidence before me, a fuller investigation by the Competition Commission is justified," he said.

A report by the Office of Fair Trading concluded in April that Sky's stake in ITV resulted in "a substantial lessening of competition" within the television market, while media and content watchdog Ofcom warned of public interest issues relating to the plurality of news providers to U.K. audiences.