Burch steps down from Virgin Media

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LONDON -- Shares in Virgin Media dropped 2% to $22.39 Wednesday on the announcement that CEO Steve Burch has stepped down.

The Virgin Media boss, who held the post for just 18 months and cited family reasons for leaving, had overseen the merger of the former NTL cable group with Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile cellular business, creating the U.K.'s first "quad-play" operator by providing mobile and fixed line telephony, cable TV and Internet services.

But the company's core subscriber base has hemorrhaged customers since a high-profile pricing spat with rival British Sky Broadcasting that is thought to have cost the satcaster nearly 70,000 customers since the beginning of the year. Viewers canceled subscriptions in droves after Virgin refused to sign carriage agreements for a bundle of Sky's basic entertainment channels, which carry such shows as "Lost," "24" and "Weeds."

Virgin's share price has continued to slump to below the $23 mark after trading at $28 in the spring. Shares briefly leapt above $30 at the beginning of July when it emerged that the group had received a bid proposal from a private equity consortium fronted by the Carlyle Group. However, the stock later fell back when turmoil in the debt markets meant that the leveraged finance necessary for the deal would not be forthcoming.

COO Neil Berkett will assume the role of acting chief executive, and a search for Burch's replacement will begin shortly, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

"Steve has contributed significantly to the transformation of Virgin Media," chairman Jim Mooney said. "On behalf of Virgin Media's board of directors, I thank him for his contribution to our development and wish him every success for the future."
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