Friday 24 February 2017

Cable-cowboy Malone zooms into pole position for F1

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Irish-American John Malone is keen to add the power of F1 to his Olympic Games deal
Irish-American John Malone is keen to add the power of F1 to his Olympic Games deal
Irish-American John Malone is keen to add the power of F1 to his Olympic Games deal

Prolific deal maker John Malone is reportedly in pole position to take control of Formula 1 in a £6.4bn (€7.5bn) deal that would add to the cable operator's growing bank of lucrative TV rights.

TV3 owner Malone's Liberty Media Corporation is said to be in talks to buy Formula 1 (F1) motor racing from private equity firm CVC Capital Parters.

In scale it's a far cry from Malone's latest deal here. He snapped up UTV Ireland for just €10m as an add-on to the Irish Virgin Media unit.

But a deal for F1 would fit with the same Malone strategy of layering media content and production assets on top of the infrastructure that delivers cable and broadband to consumers' homes.

In Ireland, the Irish-American septuagenarian's businesses have bought a head-spinning number of assets since the crash, ranging from broadcast media to hotels and farm land.

That's included adding TV3 and UTV Ireland to the former UPC and rebranding the combined business as Virgin Media.

An early sign of the impact that consolidation is having here was TV3's success in winning broadcast rights to Six Nations rugby from 2018 to 2021 out from under the feet of RTE - which traditionally dominated the Irish market.

Ireland's Virgin Media is part of Liberty Global - confusingly it is also tipped as a bidder for F1, as is Rupert Murdoch's Sky, as well as a number of private equity and sovereign wealth funds. F1 is majority owned by CVC and headed up by its 85-year old-chief executive, Bernie Eccelestone.

If Malone's bid comes off, his far-flung business empire will add media rights to F1 - massively popular with TV audiences outside the US - to a growing list of assets.

Another Malone-controlled business, Discovery Communications, paid €1.3bn last year for the broadcast rights to the Olympic Games from 2018 to 2024 - not only on TV but across formats.

Discovery was up to recently home to Dee Forbes, now director general at RTE.

Malone's shopping spree isn't limited to sport. Two years ago Discovery bought All3Media, a UK production company behind programmes including 'Midsomer Murders', 'The Only Way is Essex', 'Peep Show' and 'Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.'

Dubbed the 'cable cowboy' in the US where his business empire first emerged, John Malone is the lynchpin of a network of businesses that he either controls himself or holds a significant minority stake in.

Arguably his most audacious play is a complex plan to merge Liberty Global's cable and other assets with Vodafone's mobile networks across some or all of the European markets where the two operate.

A deal was in the works last year and could create a media giant worth as much as €160bn, but so far it's one Malone hasn't been able to wrangle.

Irish Independent

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