Liberty Global, the Denver-based international cable company controlled by industry legend John Malone, said that it is interested in pursuing deals with mobile carriers in Ireland and Poland and hopes to have agreements in hand by the end of the year.
On its Q4 earnings call with analysts, Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said pursuing such deals was “high on our list” of priorities.
Liberty already has about 1 million cable and 120,000 mobile subscribers in Ireland through its Virgin Media unit. In Poland, its UPC Poland operation has about 3.3 million video, internet and telephone customers and 62,700 mobile subscribers through an MVNO agreement.
The Irish mobile market is dominated by three carriers -- Vodafone; Three Group, owned by international telecom conglomerate CK Hutchison; and Eir, owned by French billionaire Xavier Niel. In Poland, potential targets could include Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Play and Polkomtel. Liberty tried to expand its presence in Poland in 2018 with the purchase of Multimedia Polska for about $876 million, but abandoned that deal because of regulatory opposition and difficulties in coming to financial terms with the sellers.
Fries added that Liberty Global has been aggressive in the M&A space, completing more than $80 billion worth of transactions in the past five years, that allowed the company to exit or enter markets, depending on its scale. Most recently, Liberty Global’s agreement to merge its Virgin Media business with Telefonica’s O2 in a joint venture valued at about $38 billion is scheduled to close in the summer pending regulatory approval.
“I think the way we’ve done it depends on the market - we either exited, bought or merged, and we think in all cases we’ve done the right thing, so we now have the number one or two player in these markets and that gives the scale to be, I would say, opportunistic and creative," Fries said on the call.
Ireland and Poland, where Fries said Liberty Global hasn’t had the same M&A activity, will be looked at closely, especially in the fixed mobile space.
“The markets that we haven’t yet done anything in, Ireland and Poland for example, of course we’re going to continue to evaluate what the right long-term future for those markets is in terms of their strategic footprint and whether there’s a fixed mobile opportunity, so you should assume that that’s high on our list,” Fries said. “It would be surprising to me if we ended 2021 without continued transformation even in those two markets, whatever that might look like.”
In 2020, Liberty Global said revenue declined 1.5% to $12 billion and EBITDA fell 3.9% to $4.9 billion. In the UK and Ireland, where broadband customers increased by 100,000 for the year, revenue was flat at about $6.6 billion.
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.