BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcasting giant, is in talks with a US partner that could lead to a joint bid for Pearson, the media conglomerate which owns the Financial Times, Thames Television and Penguin Books.
The plans are aimed at taking advantage of Pearson's volatile share price, and are based on Sky's determination to expand its control of British television programming in advance of the launch of 200 channels on digital satellite late next year.
It is understood that BSkyB could make an all-share offer for Pearson, with a cash alternative. Pearson was trading last week at 696.5p, giving it a market capitalisation of just under pounds 4bn. Independent analysts have said the company could be worth as much as pounds 10 a share to a buyer prepared to break it up. That suggests BSkyB might have to bid up to pounds 6bn to win the company, which has a large shareholding - perhaps 20 per cent - controlled by the founding Cowdray family and associated interests. BSkyB's advisers, Goldman Sachs, are believed to have already started to purchase Pearson shares as a first step towards launching the bid. It is understood that Pearson itself does not take the possibility of a full bid from BSkyB too seriously. It is more likely, from Pearson's point of view, that BSkyB is "shaking the trees" to see whether the company might be willing to sell its television interests, which management has already considered spinning off as a separate subsidiary. BSkyB is understood to want the television production interests, including Thames Television, the makers of The Bill and other leading series, and Grundy Worldwide, the makers of Neighbours, the popular soap. The television businesses would feed Sky's growing broadcasting activities, which have helped fuel the company's huge share price rise in recent months, to hit 691p by the end of last week, for a market capitalisation of nearly pounds 12bn. …