Court rejects BSkyB's ITV stake appeal

Tells BSkyB it must sell down stake to less than 7.5%

LONDON -- Satcaster BSkyB Thursday lost its fourth attempt to overturn a regulatory ruling that it must sell down its 17.9% stake in Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster ITV.

Three earlier legal attempts were also dismissed in what has amounted to a costly -- and thus far fruitless -- legal appeal.

Britain's court of appeal has upheld media regulator Ofcom's ruling that Sky should sell the 17.9% stake acquired in November 2006 down to 7.5% -- despite the fact the stake has plunged in value since the daring shareholder raid mounted by the then BSkyB CEO James Murdoch three years ago.

"Sky's appeal on competition issues is dismissed, so the direction that it must reduce its shareholding to less than 7.5% will stand," the court said.

Sky has already taken a £616 million ($1 billion) impairment charge the 2007/8 financial year, to account for the loss in value of the stake, but has also had to pay hefty legal costs.

Three years ago Murdoch paid more than 20% above the trading value of the ITV shares, offering 135 pence ($2.18) per share in a deal that cost the sport and movies juggernaut £940 million. Since then ITV shares have plunged to below 20 pence per share, but rallied in recent months to trade at 58 pence (94 cents) in early trading.

BSkyB has 28 days to consider a further and final appeal to the Supreme Court and said it "consider next steps in due course." But the satcaster is understood to be talking to possible buyers for the stake including Europe's biggest free TV group RTL. Italy's Mediaset, Goldman Sachs and Haim Saban are also reported to be interested.