ITV, the UK’s leading commercial web (and home to Downton Abbey) has been the subject of takeover chatter in the past year, but renewed talk set the market abuzz on Friday and today. The stock rose as much as 3.3% in London trading today, after already jumping 3% at the end of last week. Shares closed at 120.3 pence this afternoon. The hikes come as Citigroup put the company on a list of European firms that could become takeover targets or begin share buybacks. Nomura also reiterated its buy recommendation, according to Bloomberg. Liberty Global’s move to acquire Virgin Media in a $23.3B merger earlier this month has fueled takeover talk in the sector and private equity groups are thought to be the most likely suitors in the event of a move on ITV. But, other media groups have been mentioned as potential bidders including RTL, NBC, Mediaset and Time Warner, The Guardian reports. According to The Evening Standard, traders have also suggested ITV could attract interest from TV and music mogul Simon Cowell and retail billionaire Sir Philip Green.
ITV has been plowing its way through a five-year Transformation Plan to wipe down debt and reported external revenue up 4% to $2.5B in the third quarter last year. Non-net advertising revenue was up 15% to $1.16B, driven by production arm ITV Studios, maker of such programs as Hell’s Kitchen. The company said in November that cost savings for the year would be about well ahead of target. ITV will report full-year financials on February 27. Apart from its attractive balance sheet, ITV’s December acquisition of a controlling stake in Duck Dynasty producer Gurney Productions expanded the reach of its U.S. production arm, ITV Studios America. Among ITV’s assets are five UK TV channels, six international ITV Studios production offices and commercial arm ITV Studios Global Entertainment. It also just bought its London headquarters for $87M.