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Thursday 20 September 2018

Vodafone deal raises German hackles as Malone's Liberty clocks up Irish growth

John Malone’s Liberty Global looks like it is preparing to focus on its largest markets in the UK and Ireland after selling off assets in Europe and lining up the €18bn deal with Vodafone. Photo: Reuters
John Malone’s Liberty Global looks like it is preparing to focus on its largest markets in the UK and Ireland after selling off assets in Europe and lining up the €18bn deal with Vodafone. Photo: Reuters
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Vodafone is set to shake up Europe's fragmented media and telecom market with an €18.4bn deal to buy almost a third of John Malone's Liberty Global

The acquisition of Liberty Global's German and Eastern European units means Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao is reshaping spheres of influence in a way that has already drawn a harsh rebuke from his closest rival, Deutsche Telekom.

For Vodafone, it is part of a global push for scale among carriers faced with massive network investments and competition from digital players.

The agreement appears to signal a retreat by Malone, by focusing Liberty Global more on Ireland and the UK, its largest markets, and follows the sale of its Austrian cable division to Deutsche Telekom late last year. However, Liberty Global could choose to take the cash and double down in markets where it can buy rivals to scale up.

"We're moving to a region that's going to be dominated by a handful of players," said Paolo Pescatore, a media and telecom analyst at CCS Insight in London.

In Ireland, Virgin Media - which includes TV3 and the former UPC cable business - saw revenues (including broadcast) up 11.6pc to €109m in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2017.

Virgin Media said it ended the quarter with 1,061,600 Irish cable and mobile subscriptions.

TV3's 15pc year-on-year increase in viewers and "strong growth in advertising" was boosted by the Six Nations, the first time RTÉ has lost out on the broadcast rights to the tournament.

Meanwhile, the Liberty deal hands Vodafone the second-biggest cable network in Germany and assets in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania.

It marks a significant consolidation for European carriers, and will face scrutiny from regulators, either in Germany or at the European Union. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

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