Reports suggest US Media tycoon John Malone has been in secret talks with the head of NTL, Barclay Knapp, about an investment deal that may result in him becoming the dominant player in the UK cable industry.
Liberty Media, which Malone controls, could acquire between 25 and 51 per cent of NTL, which is involved in a massive debt restructuring programme. It is thought the deal would see Malone come into the firm and lenders would swap debt for shares, allowing NTL to halve its £12 billion debts.
Through Liberty, Malone has a 25 per cent stake in Telewest, Britain’s other main cable operator. He also owns 19 per cent of News Corporation – which controls satellite operator BSkyB – and has smaller investments in AOL Time Warner and Motorola.
Liberty Media already owns a 25% stake in Britain’s second-largest cable operator Telewest; and there has been speculation that the two cable operators may be forced to merge if the financial climate does not improve shortly. Such speculation has however been around for years, and other analysts say Telewest would not be willing to take on ntl’s massive debt load.
Late last month, NTL appointed Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley to advise it on how to refinance its business and cut its debts. It was also reported that ntl was holding talks with Liberty, along with AOL Time Warner and Microsoft.