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Virgin's UKTV stake attracts three bidders

Virgin said to be expecting about £350m, including outstanding loans of £116m, for its stake.

ITV, Discovery and Channel Four have evinced interest in bidding for Virgin Media's 50 per cent stake in UKTV.

Virgin is said to be expecting about £350m, including outstanding loans of £116m, for its stake.

BBC Worldwide owns the remaining 50 per cent stake in UKTV, the pay-TV business formed in 1997.

The BBC's commercial arm has first refusal on buying Virgin Media's stake and can effectively decide who buys Virgin's stake.

Although the BBC Worldwide had shown interest in taking full control of UKTV, it is understood to be constricted by a loan facility of £218m, out of which it had already drawn down £134m at the end of last year.

Any new joint owner has to be the junior partner and should be acceptable to BBC Worldwide and its chief executive John Smith.

While ITV is keen on expanding into the pay-TV market, Discovery has been heavily touted in the industry as a prime candidate. BBC Worldwide and Discovery have been working together on a global factual programming and channels joint venture since 1997.

The US television company Scripps Networks has also emerged as a possible bidder.