John Malone's Liberty Global Sees Few Acquisition Targets Left

Liberty Global chairman John Malone
Liberty Global chairman John Malone
 Getty Images

LONDON – John Malone's Liberty Global is moving from a period of acquisitions of European cable companies to an increased focus on operating those businesses and making more money off them, a top executive told an investor conference in Barcelona on Wednesday.

Charles Bracken, executive vp and co-CFO of Liberty Global, told the Morgan Stanley Technology Media & Telecoms Conference that "consolidation has been very profitable for us and our investors." But after this year's $24 billion acquisition of Virgin Media in the U.K., Liberty Global's biggest ever, "there are not a lot of assets left" that would make a material impact if the company acquired them, he said.

Concluded Bracken: "It is less of a consolidation game and really about monetizing."

He did, however, highlight that Liberty Global could do deals to gain full control in Dutch cable operator Ziggo, in which it currently owns a 28.5 percent, and Belgium's Telenet, in which it holds a 58.4 percent stake. "Everything else is not that material," said Bracken.

Liberty Global last year offered to buy out the rest of Telenet for $2.6 billion, but the deal was rejected as too low.

Bracken and another Liberty Global executive on Wednesday were also asked about the future of Ziggo, saying the firm likes the business and there was a "long-term" possibility of a full combination.

Asked about Vodafone's recent deal to acquire Germany's Kabel Deutschland by outbidding Liberty Global, Bracken said: "It does validate the value of cable assets."

But he said it does not convince Liberty Global that consumers necessarily want to be offered the so-called "quad play" by cable firms, namely pay TV, broadband, telephony and mobile services. Liberty Global is currently not treating the quad play offer as a must-have, he added.

Asked about Virgin Media, Bracken said "it has got a good growth profile. "

Quizzed about whether Europe would start seeing the types of carriage disputes that have become common in the U.S., Bracken said "we have not seen the same kind of price escalation" in carriage deals with TV network groups in Europe.

He also got a question about whether Netflix would be able to replicate its U.S. success in Europe. The online streaming firm has built  "a remarkable business in the United States," Bracken said, but predicted it would have a harder time in Europe. He mention that, for one, 75 percent of TV viewing in Europe is of free TV rather than pay TV. And countries and the industry are more fragmented in Europe, he added.

The Liberty Global executives on Wednesday confirmed that the company has formally denied reports that the company was looking at acquiring Intel's online pay TV service. They also said that Liberty Global had no plans to launch virtual broadband-based pay TV services in countries, in which it doesn't have a physical presence.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

 

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