Malone eyes Virgin Media in challenge to Murdoch

Tue Feb 5, 2013 9:44am EST
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By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - John Malone's Liberty Global is in late-stage takeover talks with Britain's Virgin Media over a $20 billion cable deal that would put the billionaire up against his old rival Rupert Murdoch.

Virgin Media, the second-biggest pay-TV provider in Britain behind Murdoch's satellite group BSkyB, released a short statement on Tuesday saying it had received an approach.

Two sources familiar with the situation said the negotiations were at a late stage and one of them said confirmation and details of a deal may come as soon as Tuesday.

A deal could reach as much as $24 billion and would give Liberty entry to one of Europe's biggest and most competitive telecom markets, allowing it to apply lessons learned as a pay-TV and broadband provider in 11 other European countries.

It would also put Malone's Liberty in a strong place to challenge Murdoch as cable groups across the region start to assert their authority over traditional telecoms firms with the offer of super-fast broadband and pay-television.

Malone, whose group has 19.6 million customers, came up against Murdoch a decade ago when Murdoch's News Corp. and Liberty Media vied for control of DirecTV Group, the largest U.S. satellite TV broadcaster.

The stand-off ended when both sides backed down. News Corp. sold its one-third stake in DirecTV to Malone's group and Malone sold 16 percent of News Corp. that Liberty had acquired, giving the Murdochs fuller control over their company.

Dubbed everything from the Cable Guy to Cable Cowboy and even Darth Vader by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore due to his perceived ruthless style, Malone made his fortune through a series of deals that transformed, and ultimately consolidated, the U.S. cable industry into one dominated by a handful of huge players.   Continued...

Chairman of Liberty Media John Malone attends the Allen & Co Media Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart