CanWest raises Ulster TV holding

 

The Canadian media group CanWest International - which is the major shareholder in the TV3 consortium in the Republic - has increased its stake in Ulster Television to 8.4 per cent after buying another 500,000 shares.

Can-West was revealed as a major investor in UTV last month, after it emerged that it was the mystery buyer of a 7.4 per cent stake in the television station. The decision by Can-West to further increase its holding - at a cost of £1.25 million - will undoubtedly increase speculation about UTV's future.

The group has two major media groups as large shareholders - CanWest with its 8.4 per cent and Scottish Media with just over 18 per cent. Scottish Media has steadily increased its stake since last August, when it snapped up 15 per cent of UTV in a dawn raid.

The Scottish group is seen as a potential bidder for UTV, as part of the gradual consolidation of independent television companies in Britain. Can-West, however, has made it clear that it is not a potential bidder for UTV, and has said that EU legislation prevents non-EU companies taking over broadcasting stations.

Can-West vice-president, Mr Leonard Asper said yesterday that he sees the stake in UTV as a "strategic investment in Ireland, as we begin preparations for the launch of TV3 in the Republic".

"We believe there should be a productive and collaborative relationship between both companies," he said.

Earlier this month, Can-West and its Irish partners in TV3 - Windmill Lane Pictures, U2 manager, Mr Paul McGuinness and showbusiness accountant, Mr Ossie Kilkenny - signed a contract with the Independent Radio and Television Commission to bring TV3 on air by next September, at an initial cost of £15 million to £20 million.

Can-West has 45 per cent of TV3. If Scottish Media does, at some stage, mount a takeover bid for UTV, it will be faced with two substantial shareholder groups which it would have to win over. Apart from Can-West and its 8.4 per cent stake, another 9 per cent of UTV shares are held by chairman Mr John McGuckian.

Mr McGuckian spent £8 million last August on four million extra UTV shares, a move seen as ensuring that the board would have a major say in the outcome of any bid by Scottish Media.