John Malone’s Liberty Global has upped its stake in British broadcaster ITV to 9.9% from 6.4%. Liberty acquired its stake last July from Rupert Murdoch’s then BSkyB — now called Sky — for $824 million.
ITV is the home of ratings juggernaut Downton Abbey and has been on an aggressive acquisitions spree of late. In June, the company acquired Boom Supervisory Limited, the holding company of Brit TV production banner Twofour Group. The seller was majority shareholder LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group; ITV paid an initial cash consideration of $86 million for 75% of the group. The deal includes a put-and-call option for the remaining 25% that can be exercised at the end of 2017 and between the end of 2019 and 2021.
Additionally, ITV also took full control of Mammoth Screen in June and closed a deal in March to acquire 100% of John De Mol’s Talpa in a deal worth an initial $530 million. In the past two years, the company has bought a string of U.S. and UK production companies, including Big Talk, The Garden and Leftfield Entertainment. One deal that appears to have fallen by the wayside, however, is the mooted purchase of the Weinstein Co’s TV division.
Malone’s Liberty Global has been on its own expansionist tear, closing a deal to acquire Ireland’s TV3 in July. Liberty Global is the largest cable company in the world, with 27 million customers across 14 countries. Assets include Virgin Media, Unity Media and Ziggo. The company is looking to diversify its offering by owning more wireless assets so it can get into the quad play business, offering TV, landline phone, broadband Internet and wireless service.
It has steadily increased its presence in the UK market, buying pay-TV and broadband company Virgin Media for $24 billion in 2013 in addition to its ITV stake. The company is also currently in talks with Vodafone over an asset sharing agreement with the telco that some believe may lead to Liberty’s eventual takeover of the company. Vodafone reps have denied the talks are related to an acquisition.
Liberty Global, along with Discovery Communications, closed a deal last May to acquire production powerhouse All3Media, which in turn this March closed a deal to acquire Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions.
“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 Global CEO Mike Fries said. “This investment remains an opportunistic one for us in our largest market. ITV is a well-run company with attractive growth potential, and we are pleased to increase our position as their largest shareholder.”
Liberty Global reps confirmed it does not intend to take control over ITV, although it reserves its rights to look at all options in the future.