A&O advises BSkyB on ITV swoop

It has emerged that Allen & Overy advised British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) on its audacious acquisition of £940m worth of shares in ITV.

BSkyB’s share purchase, equal to a 17.9 per cent stake, comes amid growing interest in ITV from broadcast rival NTL.

Partner Richard Hough led on the corporate aspects of the acquisition with head of antitrust John Wotton and partner Antonio Bavasso advising on the all-important competition issues.

Sir Richard Branson has called upon the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on 19 November to intervene, claiming BSkyB’s purchase of the stake constituted a “blatant attempt to distort competition even further by blocking any attempt to create a strong and meaningful competitor.”

A&O won its first M&A instruction from BSkyB in October 2005 on its recommended takeover of the pan-European broadband network company, Easynet Group. Richard Hough was one of the lead partners on that deal, too.

ITV is remaining tight-lipped over its choice of legal adviser, stating only that its preferred corporate counsel remains Lovells but the company recently put the cat among the pigeons by instructing Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer on its acquisition of FriendsReunited.

ITV yesterday rejected a first offer of £9bn by BSkyB’s satellite rival NTL, which is being advised by a team of Ashurst and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson lawyers.

The news of A&O’s instruction comes one day after it was announced that the firm was representing Nasdaq, along with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, in its bid for the London Stock Exchange. Corporate partners Alan Paul and Ian Lopez are leading the Nasdaq team at A&O.