In a surprise announcement made after the close of trading today in London, Sky announced it had bought 696m shares at 135p each.
"BSkyB wishes to explore options to create value in the interests of both BSkyB's and ITV's shareholders," the company said in a written statement. "BSkyB believes that ITV is one of Europe's premier broadcasting and production businesses, and holds substantial potential for long-term value creation. This acquisition of shares has taken place without the prior knowledge of the ITV board of directors, but BSkyB has today communicated to ITV's board its intention to be a supportive shareholder."
The 2003 Communications Act forbids Sky from exceeding a 20% shareholding in ITV. Sky has ruled out either taking its shareholding to 19.9% or launching a full takeover bid. In a conference call shortly after the announcement was made, Sky CEO James Murdoch told reporters that the investment constitutes "a long term and supportive shareholding in ITV."
Sky's surprise move comes after NTL and ITV confirmed that tentative merger talks were underway. Yesterday, it emerged that Five owner RTL is considering launching its own bid for ITV.