As the long anticipated union between UK cable operators NTL and Telewest is formally proclaimed, an intriguing question remains over the future of the latter's TV channels unit, Flextech.

Plans to sell Flextech, valued at £1 billion-plus ($1.8bn; €1.46bn), have been put on hold after a smoke and mirrors auction process [WAMN: 27-Sept-05].

Says Simon Duffy, ceo of the soon-to-be merged entity: "Flextech is a strategic asset that should not just be sold to the highest bidder."

However, according to British press reports, state-funded broadcaster the BBC is set to enter into direct negotiations with would-be Flextech owners.

BBC Worldwide is a 50/50 partner in Flextech channel UKTV and has the right to buy Telewest's stake in the event of a change of ownership.

The most avid Flextech bidder appear to be satellite TV monopoly BSkyB, closely followed by European broadcasting giant RTL, Discovery, Viacom and Time Warner.

BBC Worldwide ceo John Smith says meetings will take place in the next two weeks with these bidders. He does not rule out a working relationship with BSkyB, owned by the corporation's arch-critic and rival Rupert Murdoch.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff