November 30, 2010 / 2:04 PM / in 7 years

Reuters Summit-Liberty Global eyes Poland, emerging markets

(For other news from the Reuters Global Media Summit, click here)

* Says not enough deals in $250-500 mln range

* Says Poland is a market for Liberty Global

* Says not certain of bid for Kabel Baden Wuerttemberg

(Adds CEO comments, detail, background)

By Nicola Leske

LONDON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - International cable group Liberty Global (LBTYA.O) is keen to make acquisitions, but good deals are few and far between, and some would face regulatory hurdles, its top executive said.

“We are always looking at small incremental deals, then you will have the larger deals that we’ll look at ... but the ones in between, the $250 million-500 million type transaction, there’s not enough of,” Chief Executive Mike Fries told the Reuters Global Media Summit in London.

“If they come about in markets that we are strategically focused on, say, Poland ... that’s a market for us,” Fries said.

Fries, who has headed Liberty Global since it was created from the combination of Malone’s Liberty Media International and UnitedGlobalCom in 2005, said the majority of the company’s capital would be used in its core markets, though it would also use some cash to launch into small joint ventures, too.

“We’ve talked in the past about China, we’ll look at emerging markets,” Fries said, adding that: “We may not be a controlling partner, but will get our feet wet.”

Fries also said the German cable sector could stand to benefit from consolidation but that he was not entirely sure how the country’s regulator would decide on any attempts to merge cable operators.

Just over a year ago Liberty Global, controlled by cable pioneer John Malone, closed a $3 billion acquisition of Germany’s second-largest cable operator, Unitymedia.

    The German cable industry has been constrained by regulation that effectively bans consolidation among large players.

    Kabel Deutschland KD8Gn.DE, Germany’s biggest cable operator, in 2004 tried to merge with Kabel Baden-Wuerttemberg and Unitymedia to create a sizeable rival to telecom group Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE).

    Anti-trust authorities thwarted the plans and the Federal Cartel Office last year reiterated that it believed a merger of the large cable companies was problematic.

    Now, Swedish private equity firm EQT [EQTPRK.UL] has given investment banks the mandate to either sell or float Kabel BW, Germany’s third-largest cable company, two people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

    Fries said he did not yet know how aggressively Liberty Global would pursue a bid for Kabel BW.

    “We don’t generally wait around for auctions to develop where we can we try to be pre-emptive,” Fries said.

    Asked if Unitymedia was in talks with loss-making pay TV broadcaster Sky Deutschland SKYDn.DE to cooperate on distribution, Fries said the companies were in an ongoing dialogue and that he expected to strengthen the relationship over time.

    Sky Deutschland offers live broadcasts of German premier league soccer games and is at pains to increase its subscriber figures by partnering with cable companies. (Additional reporting by Victoria Howley, Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton; Editing by Will Waterman)

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