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Virgin Media boss sees 'mobile upside' after TV turnaround


Liberty Global's Mike Fries. Photo: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

Liberty Global's Mike Fries. Photo: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

Liberty Global's Mike Fries. Photo: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

TV3 owner Liberty Global injected "€10m to €15m" into the Irish broadcaster to drive a turnaround, according to the CEO of the global cable giant.

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said the investment in the Irish broadcaster had "really moved the needle". The soon-to-be renamed Virgin Media channels are making money in their own right, he said. The company will rebrand TV3 as Virgin Media Television on August 30, coinciding with the launch of a dedicated sports channel built around rights to the Uefa Champions League.

The CEO of Virgin Ireland, Tony Hanway, said TV3 is competing succesfully with RTÉ, in particular in the 15-to-44-year-old cohort, and had been buoyed by its broadcast of the Rugby Six Nations in the spring - the first time RTÉ had lost the coveted broadcast rights.

Liberty Global was the long-time owner of cable operator UPC - rebranded as Virgin Media in 2015 and still its main business here. It bought TV3 in 2015 for €87m.

Mr Fries described Virgin Media Ireland - which includes the cable and broadcast arms - as a "strategically complete business". However, he said the group is "still evaluating" the mobile market here where Virgin Media has 65,000 subscribers - well behind the big players - but there has been a rapid build-up since the service launched two years ago. Virgin's mobile service piggybacks on Three Ireland infrastructure as a 'virtual' operator, a deal secured as a result of competition concerns when Three and 02 merged.

"The question is do we become disruptive?" said Mr Fries. "There is upside and potential in mobile."

Virgin Media's main Irish competitor is Eir, bought earlier this year by French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel. Mr Fries said the Liberty business here can "hold its own" against any operator and that customers will benefit from big players competing in the Irish market.

Mr Fries, along with Liberty Global founder and chairman John Malone and other board members are in Dublin this week for the company's annual overseas board meeting, and also held a number of meetings with managers and staff at the 1,000-employee Irish arm.

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