Britain's pay-TV group BSkyB has sold a 6.4% stake in free-to-air broadcaster ITV to cable group Liberty Global, raising cash ahead of a possible deal to expand in Europe.

Liberty said it did not intend to make an offer for the rest of ITV, but analysts said the shares in the country's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster could rise on speculation of a deal in the future.

Liberty Global is the parent company of UPC in Ireland and Virgin Media in Britain.

BSkyB, which is in talks to buy Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland to create a European pay-TV powerhouse, said it had sold the stake for £481m.

The announcement brings an end to one of the most controversial corporate moves in the British media sector – the decision by BSkyB boss James Murdoch to buy 17.9% of the then struggling company to block rival NTL from creating a larger and more powerful competitor.

The move, in 2006, kicked off a long-running regulatory investigation which eventually forced Murdoch to cut his stake, at a huge loss, down to 7.5%.

NTL went on to become Virgin Media, which has since been bought by Liberty. 

Liberty Global, controlled by billionaire John Malone, has been expanding its cable empire in Europe where it makes the bulk of its revenues.

"This is an opportunistic and attractive investment for us in our largest cable market," said Mike Fries, Liberty Global's chief executive officer. 

"ITV is the leading commercial broadcaster in the UK and we're excited to be shareholders."