NTL and Telewest on Red Alert as Malone Takes Control of UPC

17 March 2003

Cable giant United Pan-European Communications, currently under bankruptcy protection in the US and the Netherlands, has received the courts’ blessing for the restructuring of its $9.96 billion (€9.20bn; £6.3bn) debt millstone.

Under the scheme, bonds and loans held by parent firm UnitedGlobalCom will be wiped out in exchange for a 65.5% stake, allowing US group Liberty Media to gain a 72% holding in UGC.

Effectively, this means that Liberty Media’s controlling stockholder, US billionaire John Malone, snatches control of UPC with a 65.5% stake leaving other shareholders just two per cent, with bondholders accounting for the residual 32.5%.

The surgical precision with which Malone planned and executed his coup suggest that he is now ready to apply the same medication to the two floundering US companies that presently maintain a duopoly of the UK cable market, NTL and Telewest. He holds stakes in both.

Malone, who also happens to be the second largest stockholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has been described by his fellow predator as the “Warren Buffett of the media” - an intended compliment to Malone’s awesome investment skills. Amazonian Indians are said to believe that mutual admiration also exists between piranhas and alligators.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff