(Adds details, analyst comments, share reaction, background)
JERUSALEM, March 26 Israel's anti-trust
authority said on Wednesday it will allow Bezeq Israel Telecom
to merge with its satellite TV provider YES.
Bezeq holds a 49.8 percent stake in YES, which has close to
600,000 subscribers. It has long sought to boost its holding to
save costs and be able to market a triple-play package of TV,
phone and Internet and compete with cable company HOT, which
already has a triple-play option.
The authority, though, has attached a number of conditions
on the merger such as not being allowed to buy exclusive content
from abroad for a few years, while Bezeq will also be prohibited
from marketing a triple-play package for now.
YES is 50.2 percent owned by Eurocom, which is controlled by
Bezeq Chairman Shaul Elovitch. Franco-Israeli telecoms
billionaire Patrick Drahi owns HOT.
Citi analyst Michael Klahr said the step was positive for
Bezeq since it will give tax benefits of up to 1.5 billion
shekels ($430.5 million) as well as potential merger synergies.
"A full operational merger between Bezeq and YES, which
would allow Bezeq to take out costs and market the TV product as
a real triple or quad play, is still dependent on the MOC
(Minister of Communications) allowing a relaxation of structural
separation at Bezeq as the wholesale market is opened up to
competition," he wrote in a note to clients.
That is not expected for at least two years, he added.
Israel's government is in the process of creating a
wholesale telecoms market that will allow other companies to use
the infrastructure of Bezeq and HOT.
The Communications Ministry favours opening up the
multi-channel TV market to competition, which would lower costs
to consumers. Mobile phone operators Cellcom and
Partner Communications have expressed interest in
launching TV ventures.
Bezeq's shares were up 0.7 percent in late trading in Tel
In 2009, the anti-trust authority rejected a merger on
grounds it would be anti-competitive but Israel's anti-trust
court allowed the merger to go forward subject to certain
conditions. The country's high court later sided with the
($1 = 3.4844 Israeli Shekels)
(Reporting by Steven Scheer)