Five questions answered on the sale of Virgin Media to Liberty Global

Birth of the world’s biggest broadband company.

Today it has been announced that Liberty Global will buy Richard Branson’s Virgin Media. We answer five questions on the two companies impending merger which will create the world’s biggest broadband company.

What is Liberty Global?

Liberty Global is an international media company and one of the largest broadband providers outside the US, operating in 13 countries, including Germany and Belgium.

John Malone is the company’s chairman who has had a long standing rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, who he clashed with in 2001 when News Corp and Liberty Global vied for control of DirecTV Group, the largest US satellite TV broadcaster.

How much has Liberty Global agreed to buy Virgin Media for?

In a cash and stock deal the company will pay $23.3bn (£15bn) to the UK Virgin Media company.

Shareholders in Virgin Media will recieve $47.87 a share, with $17.50 in cash and the rest in Liberty Global shares.

As part of that deal Sir Richard Branson retains a 3 per cent stake in the company, which has a 30-year brand licensing agreement with his Virgin Group.

The merger is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals.

How does the deal fit into the wider context of the broadband/ pay-TV industry?

The merger will create the world’s biggest broadband company, with 25 million customers in 14 countries, and puts Malone in direct rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire owns 39 per cent of BSkyB. The merged company will also be the second biggest pay-TV business after BSkyB in the UK.

Virgin Media was originally created from the merger of NTL and Telewest, and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile in 2006.

It is thought that Liberty Global will keep the Virgin Media branding.

What has Liberty Global said about its merger with Virgin Media?

Mike Fries, President and CEO of Liberty Global, in a press release statement said: “Adding Virgin Media to our large and growing European operations is a natural extension of the value creation strategy we've been successfully using for over seven years.

“After the deal, roughly 80 per cent of Liberty Global's revenue will come from just five attractive and strong countries - the UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

"Like all of our strategic acquisitions we expect this combination to yield meaningful operating and capex synergies of approximately $180 million per year upon full integration.”

What has Virgin Media representatives said?

Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett said: “Over the past six years, Virgin Media has transformed the digital experience of millions of customers, catalyzed a deep-rooted change in the UK’s digital landscape and delivered impressive growth and returns for our shareholders. I’m confident that this deal will help us to build on this legacy.

“Virgin Media and Liberty Global have a shared ambition, focus on operational excellence and commitment to driving shareholder value. The combined company will be able to grow faster and deliver enhanced returns by capitalizing on the exciting opportunities that the digital revolution presents, both in the UK and across Europe.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.