RTL will buy ITV, say reports

London: There are widespread reports Feb 1 that German television network RTL and its ultimate parent company Bertelsmann is about to acquire UK commercial network ITV. ITV is publicly quoted with 17.9% owned by BSkyB. RTL boss Gerhard Zeiler is reported to have been allocated £1bn for the deal. RTL already owns the UK’s Channel Five.

However, just to muddy the waters, Channel Five’s CEO Dawn Airey is busy talking up a merger between publicly owned Channel 4, and her own ‘Five’. “Five and 4 makes sense. It would be a public-private partnership — what this government has been all about,” she told the London Sunday Times Feb 1. “I am genuinely surprised at the hostility to RTL,” added Airey referring to her plans for a link with Channel 4. “We have offered a credible solution and I am surprised that 4 has not been more curious.”

A further theory suggests that BSkyB will swap its 17.9% stake in ITV for Channel 5, and thus give BSkyB its first terrestrial network. RTL would then move in unopposed on ITV. The Sunday Times reports a City analyst, saying: “What could be interesting is the prospect of RTL doing a swap with Sky. In this case RTL would buy Sky's stake in ITV and use this as a platform to launch a full bid for ITV enabling it to get a much bigger presence in the UK as part of its European portfolio. Sky would then own Five, neatly bypassing its problem that it can't own ITV because it is protected under law.”