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Liberty Global continues European expansion with Ziggo stake

Liberty Global has continued its spate of European expansions with the acquisition of a 12.65-percent share in Netherlands’ largest cable operator Ziggo for €632.5 million ($840 million).

Although Liberty Global already owns UPC Netherlands, the country’s second-biggest cable operator with just over 1.7 million pay TV customers, the stake in Ziggo will not be seen as anti-competitive in the immediate term because the two networks have separate coverage areas. This also means the move is logical for Liberty Global as a step towards gaining control of the whole Dutch cable base including Ziggo’s 2.85 million customers.

Both have been shedding customers to Telco KPN, which reached 1.77 million subs by the end of 2012 for its IPTV and DTT services combined, up from 1.4 million a year earlier and now accounting for 23 percent of the national pay-TV market. This may drive increased collaboration between Ziggo and UPC Netherlands to meet the KPN threat by securing better content deals, as signalled by Liberty Global’s investment.

However, KPN itself has been struggling with the cost of competing in the highly saturated Dutch pay-TV market, leading to a fourth quarter loss of €162 million, followed by a bid to raise€4 billion in a rights issue. KPN is fortunate though to have the backing of Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, whose America Movil conglomerate has acquired almost 30 percent of the Telco at a cost of around €3 billion. A move by America Movil to increase this to a majority stake has been tipped by some analysts.

For Liberty Global, the Ziggo stake follows the much larger full acquisition of Virgin Media, which has a near monopoly of the UK cable market, with 3.7 million pay TV subscribers. Liberty Global is paying €17.23 billion ($23 billion) for Virgin Media in a cash and stock deal that cements its position as Europe’s leading cable company operator with about 23 million customers including broadband and voice.