Carlyle Group in talks to bid on Virgin Media

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NEW YORK -- The Carlyle Group private equity firm is in discussions with Virgin Media Inc. over a potential bid for the British cable TV company, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The talks are preliminary and may not lead to a bid, the Times said on its Web site, citing a person familiar with the negotiations. The person was not authorized to speak about the negotiations and requested anonymity, the Times said.

The offer for Virgin Media, whose largest investor is Richard Branson, would be worth about $19.6 billion including debt, the person said, placing it among the largest ever in Britain.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Media declined to comment. A message was left Sunday evening seeking comment from The Carlyle Group.

Virgin Media, formed by a merger this year between Branson's Virgin Mobile and cable operator NTL Inc., reported its seventh consecutive quarterly loss in May after subscribers defected to rival BSkyB.

Virgin Media lost customers earlier this year after it stopped airing basic BSkyB channels, dropping popular programs such as "Lost," "24," and "The Simpsons," as the result of a battle over fees during negotiations to renew a distribution agreement.

BSkyB has long dominated pay TV in Britain, accounting for around 70% of the country's pay-TV subscribers. But the arrival of Virgin Media has threatened a shake-up of the status quo, and relations between the two have become increasingly rancorous in recent months.
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