News Corp gets green-light for BSkyB bid after Sky News deal

So Rupert Murdoch will spin off the loss-making Sky News to get his hands on profitable BSkyB. Bet he's devastated.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has reached an accommodation with regulators in its bid to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB: it's agreed to flog a majority stake in Sky News. Since this presumably scuppers any objections about the effects of the deal on media plurality, it's not surprising that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has now approved the bid. And since basically all Murdoch is doing is giving up a politically sensitive, loss-making subsidiary, it's hard to see him being too disappointed either. Now it’s over to shareholders…

The deal involves News Corp spinning off Sky News into a separate, publicly-listed entity – but it's also agreed to buy its services from it for 10 years, and licence the Sky brand to it for the next seven years. The theory is that this will put the channel on a solid financial footing for the foreseeable future, making it more attractive to potential investors.

As for ownership, News Corp will retain a 39.1% stake, with the rest divvied up among existing shareholders. Now you may notice that this is the same set-up BSkyB currently has, and it would be hard to argue that News Corp has no influence there (particularly while Murdoch's son James was in charge). So News Corp has also had to agree that the board of Sky News will henceforth have a majority of independent directors, to make sure the Murdoch clan can't exert undue influence.

The inevitable consequence of all this has been a thumbs-up from Jeremy Hunt for News Corp's bid to take control of the 61% of BSkyB that it doesn't already own. This is bound to cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth; there's lots of bad feeling towards Murdoch amongst the general public (as the comment boards attest today), and his papers' very public backing for the Tories before the Election further complicates matters.

However, the fact remains that the media plurality argument (i.e. News Corp's control of Sky News would give it too much influence over the news, a theory that was never totally convincing) has always been the major objection to this deal, at least publicly. If that objection no longer holds, it's not entirely clear on what grounds Hunt could have blocked the deal. (There's a good argument that News Corp will still have an excessive amount of power despite these concessions - as the Guardian's Dan Sabbagh, a some-time MT contributor, explains cogently here - but that hasn't been the main line of attack).

If Hunt does give it the final go-ahead (and there'll be a rear-end-covering public consultation first) it will now, quite rightly, be up to BSkyB shareholders to decide whether the News Corp bid represents fair value. And Murdoch is unlikely to get an easy ride there, by the sounds of it. He’s going to have to stump up a lot more than 700p a share to get his hands on the prize he really wants - some of them are even talking about £10 a share...

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