Liberty Global buys Unitymedia for $5.2 bil

John Malone's cable group acquires German cable operator

COLOGNE, Germany -- It's second-time lucky for John Malone who has finally got himself a piece of the German cable TV market following the €3.5 billion ($5.2 billion) acquisition of Cologne-based cable group Unitymedia by Malone's Liberty Global Inc. (LGI).

The deal, announced Friday will see Liberty pay €2 billion ($3 billion) in equity and take over €1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) in debts from Unitymedia, Europe's third-largest broadband cable operator, with 4.6 million direct customers in Germany.

Unitymedia's owners, PE firms BC Partners, Apollo Management and Finakabel Holdings were actually set to take the company public this year and company CEO Parm Sandhu has been crisscrossing the country selling the idea at road shows. But Unitymedia continued to negotiate with Liberty and Malone, who has been trying to break the German cable market since his bid for Deutsche Telekom's massive network was blocked by competition watchdogs back in 2002. The new deal still requires regulatory approval.

"We are excited about this transaction as it complements our existing European footprint and has significant untapped growth potential in one of the fastest growing cable markets in Europe," said LGI president and CEO Mike Fries in a statement. "The addition of Unitymedia not only enhances our European presence, but adds significant scale to our global operations, as our footprint, including Unitymedia, will exceed 40 million homes."

Liberty already provides cable and broadband services to customers in 10 European countries through Amsterdam-based UPC Broadband, Swiss service Cablecom and Telenet in Belgium.

Unitymedia, Germany's second-largest cable group behind Kabel Deutschland, yesterday posted Q3 figures, which showed a 3% increase in quarterly revenue to €226.7 million ($337 million) and a net profit, shorn of one-off effects, of €12. 2 million ($18 million).