BSkyB ordered to sell down ITV stake

Ruling could start bidding war for the broadcaster

LONDON -- BSkyB must sell down its stake in commercial broadcaster ITV from 17.9% to under 7.5%, the Competition Commission tribunal said Monday.

The long-awaited verdict could trigger a bidding war for the ailing commercial broadcaster, or could see it reopen merger talks with cable group VirginMedia.

The tribunal's ruling, which came after the financial markets in London closed, leaves the News Corp.-controlled satcaster facing a possible 650 million pound ($1.17 billion) write-off of the value of its ITV shares, and is expected to prompt another appeal by the satcaster to delay the sale until market conditions improve.

The holding, acquired by former BSkyB chief executive James Murdoch at 1.35 pounds per share in November 2006, has collapsed in value as ITV's shares have tumbled, closing down 7% on Monday at 41 pence (74 cents).

BSkyB did not comment by press time, but ITV welcomed the decision to "dismiss in full" Sky's appeal against the share move.

Analysts said the markets were unsurprised.

"This is in line with the previous ruling and what the market was expecting," Alexander Wisch, an analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research told Bloomberg.