LibertySurf, the US cable business owned by entrepreneur John Malone, is in discussion with NTL, the UK’s largest cable operator. Topping the agenda is a potential joint venture aimed at extending their respective broadband and content services across Europe.

Liberty already has a strong presence on the continent, reaching 20 million subscribers via minority holdings in Telewest (UK), six German regional cable companies and Netherlands-headquartered United Pan-Europe Communications.

NTL Europe is available to around 6.6m European households and has an actual subscriber base of 3.7m across Scandinavia, Switzerland, France and Germany. Although NTL holds no controlling stakes in these companies, chief executive Barclay Knapp confirmed yesterday that "our goal is to bring them into the fold”.

Commented an insider involved in the talks: “With the market as it is at the moment, expansion will increasingly be through partnership, rather than acquisition. This is about looking for ways to the smart money.”

NTL could certainly use the money – “smart” or any other kind – given its latest results, published yesterday. Net losses for the year to December 3 grew to $3.16 billion versus a deficit of $809.4m in 1999. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes and amortisation) were $344.1m against 1999’s $210.9m.

News source: Financial Times