Liberty Global Boosts ITV Stake to Delve Deeper Into Content

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Billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc increased its stake in ITV Plc to just under 10 percent, moving further into owning production and content assets instead of just distributing programs via its cable networks.

Liberty Global acquired 138.7 million ITV shares, taking its holding to 9.9 percent. No financial details were given, though at market price, the additional stake has a value of about 380 million pounds ($593 million). Liberty Global said a statement it has no plans to make a full takeover offer.

The London-based company, which owns cable companies from Hungary to the U.K., has spend more than $50 billion amassing TV assets in Europe in the decade. It’s been increasingly expanding into TV production and programs, buying production house All3Media in a partnership with Discovery Communications Inc. in May 2014. It acquired an initial 6.4 percent stake in ITV, which has top-rated shows such as “Downton Abbey,” a year ago from Rupert Murdoch’s European pay-TV operator Sky Plc.

“This investment remains an opportunistic one for us in our largest market,” Liberty Global Chief Executive Officer Mike Fries said in the statement.

Internet-TV and film-streaming services such as Netflix Inc. have reshaped the industry for Liberty Global and other cable companies, because owning the rights to content has become more valuable as programs are accessed in more ways -- increasingly via mobile devices and the Internet, as well as through traditional satellite, cable and TV platforms.

Liberty Global said it had entered into a hedging transaction over the ITV shares and obtained further financing from its hedge counterparty. The deal will “result in net cash being released to Liberty Global,” it said.

The stake increase could be seen as a protective move by Liberty Global to ward off an advance on ITV by rivals, Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum, said in a note on Friday.

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