Liberty Readies Finances For US Media Shopping Spree

19 May 2003

Liberty Media is readying a multibillion-dollar warchest as it pursues the US entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal.

Liberty boss John Malone is preparing for an acquisition spree, and topping his list are the movie, television and theme park businesses owned by the Vivendi Universal Entertainment group. He wants to merge these with Liberty’s existing Starz Encore movie channels to create a major new platform in the US media industry.

To fund such expansion, Liberty revealed it has stockpiled cash and securities worth $5.3 billion (€4.6bn; £3.3bn) and could raise up to $10bn more by selling peripheral assets.

Vivendi recently decided to offload most of the stateside VUE businesses after months of speculation [WAMN: 01-May-03]. Several US media groups have shown an interest, but Liberty is unique in that it wants to purchase all the assets on sale.

Malone enjoys another advantage in that he has a close relationship with Barry Diller, boss of USA Interactive, in which Liberty holds an 18% stake. Diller, who recently quit as head of VUE, retains an effective veto over the unit’s sale.

But the VUE assets – which include Universal Pictures and cable broadcaster USA Networks – are not the only target in Malone’s sights. The media mogul is also hopeful of taking control of shopping channel QVC by purchasing the 58% stake held by Comcast. Liberty already owns the other 42%.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff