Virgin has confirmed that it is in talks with American billionaire John Malone about a possible takeover of Virgin Media – that could lead to a bid within the week, threatening Rupert Murdoch’s leading BSkyB TV service.
A purchase will be a challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s monopoly on paid-for TV services in the UK with BSkyB. Liberty Media, a subsidiary of Liberty Global, owns a hefty chunk of cable TV in the United States, and has the financial clout to inject competition into the British market.
According to principal analyst at Ovum, Adrian Drury, said in the near term the UK will become a “slug fest” for the two global pay TV heavyweights – that is, John Malone and Rupert Murdoch. TV subscribers will not be the only segment up for grabs, as the action could also kick off a price war in fixed broadband and voice subscribers.
“Depending on how Malone might choose to leverage the Virgin Mobile asset,” Drury said, “it may also spill over in consumer mobile services”.
Malone’s involvement would bring business experience from cable operations in 13 major markets, Drury points out, as well as leverage across multiple territories with the major studios and sports federations. Liberty’s Horizon platform would also gain a foothold in the UK. However, Drury said competing with BSkyB will be “facing off against a jewel” – as it is one of the best run operations in the world, not to mention its technology platform strategy and exclusive content rights with HBO and contracts with Premiership football.
The UK is also an emerging territory for streaming content services, with the two big players being Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm. Both BSkyB and Virgin have been offering their own streaming packages, however, that has seen a battle between companies that offer streaming to getting the best licensing deals. As such, Ovum suggests, it will be a a test for Liberty’s vision of cable TV and web services.
“Also expect that there would be some collateral damage, potentially other UK telcos trying to solve their triple play pay-TV challenge, such as Talk Talk and BT,” Drury said.