John Malone’s Liberty lines up $20bn Virgin Media bid, Lebedevs expand in London with local TV

John Malone’s Liberty Global, a big US-based cable company, is planning a bid for the UK’s Virgin Media according to the Financial Times.

Virgin Media, in which Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin holds just a three per cent stake (despite appearances to the contrary – he appears in most of its ads) is valued at a rather improbable $20bn. Virgin Media is listed in the US not London although it operates in the UK.

It has never made significant money but remains the UK’s second-biggest pay-TV operator after BSkyB although that may change as BT flexes its muscles and its new Premiership football rights (shared with Sky). If Malone does bid that would bring him into direct UK opposition with one-time business ally Rupert Murdoch whose company owns 40 per cent of BSkyB.

Also in medialand, the hyperactive Lebedevs, father Alexander and son Evgeny, have won the 12-year contract for the new London local TV station, fending off bids backed by Trinity Mirror and serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson. The Lebedevs own the Independent, cut-price offshoot i and the London Evening Standard.

They are promising 18 hours of news, sport and entertainment programming a day plus internet TV for each London borough. The London franchise could surprise by becoming extremely valuable. Londoners are hard to reach through main media (hence the current success being enjoyed by the Evening Standard) and, in terms of the UK, London is where most of the money is.

The big question for the Lebedevs (and the regulators who awarded them the extended contract) is do they have the wherewithal to fund such a venture? The Standard is believed to be making a small profit but the Independent most certainly is not. Their business interests in Russia are under pressure from the Putin government and Alexander is due to stand trial there for throwing a punch at a fellow guest on a local chat show.

Some pundits think that Associated Newspapers, which used to own the Standard, may try to buy it back. If the Lebedevs decide TV is a more exciting prospect (as well as a costly one) such a deal may have come closer.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Congratulations to Tim Kirkman who led the TV franchise bid for the ES team. I thought their submission was by far the most appropriate for London, partly because of the real insight into Londoners and London life brought to it by the ES newspaper journalists but partly also due to the judgement and balance Tim contributed to the mix as a result of his media experience. The marriage of Art and Commerce working rather well in fact.