Liberty Global Has "No Current Plans" to Raise ITV Stake

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An executive at John Malone's cable giant also addresses the U.K. broadcaster's retransmission fee push

John Malone's Liberty Global is continuing to explore content acquisitions but doesn't plan to boost its stake in British broadcaster ITV right now, a top executive told a Tuesday conference in London.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society conference, Jim Ryan, senior vp and chief strategy officer, explained that after selling its Chellomedia channels business to AMC Networks for $1 billion, the international cable operator has been looking to focus its content activities around four areas: production firms, sports, over-the-top (or broadband) video and free-to-air TV. 

The idea is to "hang that onto [our cable] technology," he explained.  

Asked about continuing market chatter that Liberty Global and Discovery Communications, in which Malone also owns a stake, could jointly acquire a 49 percent stake in the Formula 1 racing circuit, Ryan said sports is a good business for pay TV companies, and "we would want to invest more" in the space. "Formula 1 is relevant in a couple of our big markets, but we have nothing more to say," he added. 

Will Liberty Global raise its stake in U.K. commercial broadcaster ITV after recently buying a small stake, as some industry observers and analysts have suggested? Ryan said:  "We have no current plans to build our stake."

He highlighted that a third of Liberty Global's business and staff are now in Britain after the acquisition of cable giant Virgin Media. "We do want to enhance" that, he said. "It gives us a seat at the table in U.K. content discussions."

But Ryan also emphasized that as a cable TV giant, Liberty Global does not like ITV's renewed push for U.S-style retransmission consent payments from pay TV firms. "We don't think the retransmission debate is something we should be supporting," he said. 

Ryan also explained why Discovery and Liberty Global jointly acquired U.K. production firm All3Media, calling it an ideal content deal for Liberty Global. Saying that the company sees value in local content opportunities, he highlighted that 70 percent of All3Media's business is in Liberty Global's core markets of Britain and Germany. 

"We are a big indie" that is not affiliated with any big studio, Ryan said. "So we are interested in local content opportunities."

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