Malone will avoid UK rights war with Murdoch's BSkyB

Wed Feb 6, 2013 9:09am EST
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By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - John Malone's Liberty Global will avoid a battle with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB over expensive content like English Premier League soccer, the U.S. company said after agreeing to buy BSkyB's biggest rival.

Liberty is buying Virgin Media for about $15.75 billion in stock and cash, pitting Malone against his old rival Murdoch in British pay-television and broadband.

Both Virgin Media and Liberty Global said the deal, worth more than $23 billion including debt, was more about expanding the U.S. group's presence in Europe than shaking up British pay-TV.

Virgin Media had a strong commitment to share content with Sky, Liberty Global Chief Executive Mike Fries said on Wednesday, and he wanted to make sure Virgin Media had access to premium programming.

"We do not see any reason why that would change or any reason why Virgin Media needs to compete with Sky for that premium content," he told reporters.

Liberty will serve 25 million customers in 14 countries after the deal, overtaking ComCast as the world's number-one cable TV operator by subscriptions, Fries said.

Virgin Media, which has 4.9 million customers compared to BSkyB's 10.7 million, was formed when cable groups Telewest and NTL and mobile telecom operator Virgin Mobile merged in 2006.

That deal was led by Virgin Group's Richard Branson, who still owns around 3 percent, and who will make about $316 million from the Liberty takeover.   Continued...

A logo is seen next to the entrance of the Virgin Megastore at the Champs Elysees in Paris, January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann