TV3-owner Liberty ups ITV stake to 9.9%

European cable operator Liberty Global said yesterday it had raised its stake in ITV to 9.9% through a hedging deal — but still had no intention of taking over Britain’s biggest free-to-air commercial TV firm.

Liberty Global owns cable operator UPC which earlier this month confirmed it bought TV3 for a price of up to €87m.

Liberty — which also owns pay-TV company Virgin Media — took a 6.4% stake in ITV a year ago. In September it said it had no plans to increase the holding.

“Given ITV’s operating and stock price performance, we were able to increase our stake to 9.9% with no incremental investment by hedging our existing equity position,” Liberty said yesterday. “This investment remains an opportunistic one for us in our largest market.” Liberty Global confirmed it did not intend to make an offer to acquire ITV.

Backed by US tycoon John Malone — who also controls Liberty Media Corp and Discovery Communications — Liberty Global has bought cable assets across Europe in the past decade and has more recently started buying strategic stakes in content producers.

ITV has been snapping up independent production companies, such as Talpa Media which makes entertainment show The Voice, to reduce its reliance on its broadcasting business in Britain.

Liberty bought its initial holding in ITV from satellite broadcaster Sky in July 2014 for £481m, a deal that boosted ITV’s share price by 8% as investors bet that a full takeover would follow.

Shares in ITV, which reported a 25% increase in first-half pre-tax profit on Tuesday, have risen by 57% since Liberty bought its initial stake.

“Liberty has stated it does not intend to make a bid for ITV but its move suggests that it thinks a move by another player is likely or, at least, an increasing possibility,” said Analyst Ian Whittaker at Liberum.

TV3 Group, Ireland’s leading commercial television broadcaster, earlier this month confirmed that its shareholder Doughty Hanson had sold its stake to Liberty’s UPC.

Liberty Global is the largest international cable company with a market cap of more than $42bn (€38bn) and operations in 14 countries, TV3 said.

The acquisition included TV3’s two free-to-air channels, TV3 and the youth-oriented 3e.

TV3 said it has an audience share of 12% in the Republic. It said it had its best year last year since the crash.

Reuters and Irish Examiner staff


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