Cable interference will delight the Digger

BUSINESS VIEW

I have an apology to make to NTL and Vivendi. Earlier this week I mentioned to a colleague that Stephen Byers was constructively boring, rather in the fashion of a Gordon Brown speech or a statement to shareholders from Associated British Foods. As if to prove me wrong, Byers makes the most controversial decision in his brief career as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Referring both Vivendi's purchase of a 25 per cent stake in BSkyB and NTL's purchase of rival cable operator CWC Communications is hardly the move of someone wanting to keep his head down - especially as in the latter case, he overruled John Bridgeman, the Director General of Fair Trading. Indeed Byers has walked into the sort of political storm he has spent his career avoiding.

The main beneficiary of these moves is Rupert Murdoch. If Vivendi was blocked from cementing its position in BSkyB, this could only reinforce the Digger's influence over the cable TV group. Preventing NTL from buying CWC would stop the long-overdue consolidation of the cable TV industry into a force to challenge BSkyB's dominant position in extra-terrestrial TV. Byers claims that if Barclay Knapp, the aggressive American behind NTL, got his hands on CWC, this would cut down competition in the market for pay-per-view TV services. Mr Secretary of State, you are wrong.

For nearly a decade Murdoch has dominated this market by virtue of being the main wholesaler of TV rights. Murdoch companies have contracts to show almost all the top football matches, as well as the best boxing, golf, cricket and much of the rugby. They resell these to the cable companies - or to digital TV, as ONdigital has learned - on BSkyB's terms (unless forced to play fair by the regulators).

To compete with Murdoch you need deep pockets. Unless the cable companies club together they are not in a position to outbid him for rights. For sure the arrival on the scene of ONdigital creates a third force, but the collapse of NTL's deal to buy CWC would seriously weaken the main competitor to Murdoch.

Byers might have angered the media mogul by blocking his purchase of Manchester United. But if Murdoch had the choice of giving up Manchester United to ensure that Barclay Knapp was not able to get hold of CWC, he would happily have made that sacrifice.

NatWest plays it canny

If the offer timetable runs to its rather pedantic plan, Bank of Scotland's pounds 21bn bid for NatWest will close on Boxing Day. Not wishing to spoil the holiday season by having to deliberate on the offer, most institutions have already decided to give Bank of Scotland the thumbs-down.

The logic, as told to me by a number of leading institutional investors, is that Bank of Scotland is rather good at running its small, well-focused operations but does not have the firepower to run a sprawling leviathan like NatWest.

But here is the dilemma. The City does not want NatWest to remain independent either. It is praying that Royal Bank of Scotland makes a rival bid.

Sir George Mathewson, though, is too canny to show his hand so soon. He is waiting until he knows whether the Bank of Scotland's bid is going to be referred to the Competition Commission before making an offer. This means any bid will not come before the second week in December.

For all his posturing about keeping NatWest independent, Sir David Rowland will know that striking a friendly deal with Royal Bank is preferable to merely being served up like a Haggis on Burns Night. There is clearly a job in the Royal NatWest structure for Sir David's appointee, Ron Sandler, should a deal be struck.

There may even be a job for Alastair Lyons, who joined NatWest yesterday. Lyons, of course, ran National & Provincial building society and said it would remain independent, before selling the society to Abbey National. He then moved to NPI, saying the insurer would remain independent, before selling it to AMP. Now he is at NatWest. Is it third time lucky, or is there a pattern forming?

A smash hit at Emap

Tomorrow Kevin Hand will start to show that he is in charge at Emap. The genial Francophile has had to tread carefully as his predecessor, Robin Miller, is still the group's chairman and any radical changes would bring the inevitable suggestions of implied criticism. However, the de- rating of Emap earlier this year enabled Hand to ignore such niceties.

The slew of disposals last week were the first sign of a new "Hands-on" management style. With the half-year figures he will say that the company will now cease to be run with separate units for business publications, consumer magazines and radio, but will be managed by subject matter - so that the car mags will be in the same unit as the motor industry titles, and the likes of Q and Smash Hits will be grouped with the radio stations. Emap shares were strong last week and if this continues, the company could again become the market's darling.

n j.nisse@independent.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence