U.K. Cable Firm Virgin Media Looks to Integrate Netflix-Type Services

Meanwhile, the company's future owner, John Malone's Liberty Global, signals no interest in competing with BSkyB for sports rights.

LONDON - U.K. cable operator Virgin Media, which John Malone's Liberty Global is in the process of acquiring for $16 billion, plans to integrate online content services, such as Netflix, into its offerings rather than fight them, according to the company's outgoing boss.

"Our approach is to get every content asset you possibly can on the platform," Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett told Bloomberg News. He didn't provide further details on the plans or provided a time frame.

U.K. pay TV operators have seen online streaming services such as Netflix, which last year crossed the 1 million subscriber mark in Britain, and Amazon.com’s LoveFilm as rising competitors, even though CEOs have generally said they haven't eaten into their companies' subscriber growth.

Streaming services have the potential to hurt offerings by cable firms that don’t collaborate with them, Berkett said. “We’ve got a far greater chance as an industry by embracing over-the-top services,” he explained.

Asked if the acquisition by Liberty Global could lead to a major change of strategy, Berkett said, "it’s unlikely that you’ll see a U-turn and digression in terms of our strategy."

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said, for example, that the new owner wasn't planning for Virgin Media to bid against U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. owns a 39 percent stake, for sports TV rights. Industry observers have wondered if the deep-pocketed Liberty Global could set Virgin Media's sights on sports content after the recent emergence of telecom giant BT as a key player in the sports rights field.

"Virgin Media is a great asset, a great brand, and it has a confident management team," Bloomberg quoted Fries as saying. "We think it’s a good time to be in this market."

He also said that Virgin Media would continue to use TiVo set-top boxes in the coming years, but signaled there could be a change down the line, according to Bloomberg. Liberty Global has been rolling out the competing Horizon box in Europe.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
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