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Ofcom told to probe BSkyb's ITV stake

# 26 February 2007, 18:11 by Cable Forum

BBC News is reporting that the government has stepped in, in the row between Virgin Media and BSkyb’s 17.9% stake in ITV. The Media regulator, Ofcom has been asked by the government to advise whether the November purchase was not in the public interest. The Murdoch’s stake in ITV blocked Virgin Media’s attempt to aquire the channel in November last year.

The decision from Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling’s had followed heavy lobbying by MPs. He had told MPs, “As a general rule, ministers have withdrawn from the regulatory consideration of mergers. However… in this case, it is appropriate for me to use the mechanism established by the Communications Act 2003 to ask Ofcom to conduct an initial investigation into the public interest issues that may be raised by this transaction.”

Any decision by Ofcom could result in BSkyb being referred to the Competition Commission.

Virgin Media have welcomed the inquiry and Virgin Media’s chief executive, Steve Burch, told The Guardian:

“Both policy-makers and the public have good reason to be concerned about BSkyB’s acquisition of material influence over one of its principal competitors and the resulting concentration of media ownership in the UK.

We’re therefore gratified that the secretary of state has decided to initiate a full investigation into these issues and we look forward to playing an active role in this process.

“This of course will run in parallel with the Office of Fair Trading’s ongoing investigation into the competition implications of Sky’s stake-building.”

Meanwhile, Ofcom has also been bombarded with 140 complaints regarding Sky showing ads warning Virgin Media TV customers, they face losing Sky’s basic channels.

There was also some trouble during last nights airing of ‘24’, for some Virgin Media viewers. ‘24’ is shown on Sky One and is one of the channels top shows. Virgin Media TV viewers said the picture cut out – Some Virgin Media viewers feel some form of conspiracy had taken place and that it was a bit of co-incidence following the current spat between Virgin Media and Sky, over carriage of channels. Sky have denied though that there was any deliberate cause for the picture cutting out.

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