BSkyB accelerates move online with Sports

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The Independent Online

In a further move to align itself more closely with the internet, BSkyB from mid-April will rename its sports news channel Sky Sports and is considering a similar rebranding of Sky News, its 24-hour news channel.

The rebranding exercise is the latest move by the satellite broadcaster to accelerate its embrace of the Web, which was given major impetus last month when the pay-TV giant earmarked £250m for internet investment.

It is understood that the rebranded sports news channel will feature extensive graphic displays that will update continually in real time and could eventually include interactive options. Insiders are comparing the rebranded channel's appearance to the rolling news and information television channel operated by Bloomberg, the US financial news provider.

A BSkyB spokesman said the rebranding plan was under consideration, but that no final decision has been reached.

News of the rebranding coincided with a £340m placing of new shares yesterday to raise cash for BSkyB's acquisition of a 24 per cent stake in KirchPayTV, Germany's leading digital pay-TV company. In an extremely profitable twist of fate, the near doubling in BSkyB's share price since Christmas effectively halved the number of shares sold to finance the German expansion.

Yesterday BSkyB, via joint lead managers Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman Sachs, sold 19 million new shares to city institutions at 1,825p. Had the Kirch investment proceeded in December, BSkyB would have needed to sell close to 40 million shares to finance the cash payment.

Normally the ever-restless Rupert Murdoch, BSkyB's chairman and controlling shareholder with a 40 per cent interest, would have chaffed at the four-month delay. But the European Commission's investigation, which considered the competitive implications of closer links between Britain and Germany's biggest pay-TV companies, meant BSkyB issued only 1.1 per cent of its equity to finance the deal. Nor will Kirch Group complain about the deal's delay. Its 78 million shares in BSkyB, received as part of the consideration, are worth £1.4bn - some £800m more than when the transaction was agreed.

The placing saw BSkyB stock slide 8.4 per cent to 1798p, knocking around £2.5bn from its market capitalisation, which last night stood at about £31bn.

BSkyB also said sales of its digital service rose to 3.0 million by last weekend. Net digital subscriber growth for the three months to 31 March is expected to be around 190,000 - double the 95,000 subscribers recruited in the same period a year ago.