Virgin has the English Premiership in its sights

Sir Richard Branson realised his dream of getting into broadcast television this week as he sold Virgin Mobile to NTL—netting his empire almost £700million in cash and shares—and licensed the use of the Virgin brand across the new company’s TV, broadband and telecoms services.

The deal is likely to speed up Sir Richard’s plans to re-enter the TV production business. Virgin used to own production and post-production houses, but sold them in the 1990s after losing the battle to run Britain’s fifth terrestrial channel.

NTL is buying Virgin Mobile for almost £1billion in cash and shares in a deal that will leave Branson with 10,7% of the merged entity—which will list in New York and London—and a seat on its board. NTL, which is merging with Telewest, plans to start using the Virgin name across its consumer businesses this year.
The deal will make NTL Britain’s first company able to offer quad-play—TV, broadband Internet access, fixed and mobile telecoms services. Brandon jokingly referred to the proposition as “four-play”.

NTL CE Steve Burch said the combined business will have more than nine million customers giving it “a strong platform to compete with BT and BSkyB”, both of which are offering converged telecoms and media services. NTL plans to offer broadband services to all British homes.

One of NTL’s first battles with BSkyB is likely to be over the right to broadcast premiership football games when they come up for auction this year, to front a new Virgin-branded sports channel.

“We are looking at Premier League football,” said NTL chairperson Jim Mooney. “I think the concept of Virgin Sports is probably one of the most exciting things I can think of.”—Â

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