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July 23, 2007

Comcast Eyeing Overseas Expansion?

A British financial newspaper reported today that Comcast is looking to bid on U.K. cable operator Virgin Media.

The City A.M. newspaper (click here for a PDF of today's edition) cites a source close to Virgin Media in reporting that Richard Branson's cable company, formerly operating as NTL Telewest, has been approached by 11 parties expressing interest in acquiring the operator, including Comcast.

Other interested bidders include Time Warner and private equity firms including Providence, Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).

Comcast's interest may have been sparked from inside. Virgin Media, the U.K.'s only cable operator, is run by an American, Stephen Burch, its president and CEO. Burch held various positions at Comcast over 17 years—rising from general manager positions to president of its then-Atlantic division—before moving to London and joining Branson in January 2006 to help launch his cable business.

Potential bidders for the beleaguered company, which had a costly and very public spat with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB over programming rights, have been giving a deadline of Aug. 8 to file proposals. If Comcast proceeds with its bid, the move would mark its first foray into running a cable operation outside the U.S.

Virgin Media launched in February and offers quadruple play voice, video, broadband and wireless service, including 5 million cable customers, 4.5 million mobile customers and 250,000 high-speed online subscribers. It was put on the block earlier this month following an unsolicited bid from the Carlyle Group, the U.S. private equity firm that owns cable operator Insight Communications.

Not sitting still while its ownership race heats up, last week it announced a wide-ranging TV sports rights deal with Setanta Sports.

Virgin Media's latest marketing campaign, "Truth, Lies and Broadband," is being investigated by Britain's Advertising Standards Authority following complaints that its cable plant is actually coaxial cable, not by fiberoptics, as the campaign states.







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