The Dirty Digger has won again. Jeremy Hunt has given Rupert Murdoch the green light to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB he does not already own.
The inevitable concession is a fairly minor one. Sky News will be “spun off” into a new company listed on the stock market, with a new board made up of a majority of independent directors. In addition, News Corp will be blocked from increasing its shareholding in the new company (currently 39.1 per cent) without permission from the Secretary of State for ten years.
For Murdoch, this is little more than an inconvenience. He has won the opportunity to create a new £6.4bn media giant, the likes of which Britain has never seen. As the graphic below shows, the revenues of a combined BSkyB and News International would dwarf those of the BBC.
Media companies by revenue
And, as former NS editor Peter Wilby notes in this week’s magazine, there is nothing in the agreement to prevent Murdoch bundling up subscriptions to his newspapers with subscriptions to Sky. However, while the regulatory hurdles have been removed, the News Corp head still has to persuade BSkyB’s shareholders to sell. The current offer of 700p per share is viewed as far too low, not least because BSkyB profits rose by 26 per cent to £467m in the last six months of 2010, with revenues up 15 per cent to £3.2bn. But with News Corp in rude health, largely thanks to bumper profits from its filmmaking division, Murdoch is likely to make a significantly improved offer.
Eight days short of his 80th birthday, and with one of his tabloids the subject of a police investigation, he has outplayed them all again.