Only a few years ago, the U.S. telecom tycoon John Malone was all about expanding in Europe, apparently aiming to replicate his success in the American cable industry with Liberty Global, which bought Virgin Media and Cable & Wireless Communications in the U.K. and Unitymedia in Germany.
The deal doesn’t take Liberty Global out of Europe—it’s still hanging around in the U.K., Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland and Slovakia, and it will still be Europe’s biggest cable provider—but it does take a lot of Europe out of Liberty Global.
“We have a rich history at Liberty Global of successfully developing and reshaping our business to drive innovation, advance customer services and create significant value for shareholders. This is one of those moments,” said Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries.
Germany is the biggest deal in this deal, as it will help Vodafone take on the country’s biggest beast, incumbent Deutsche Telekom. The combined operation will still only be half the size of Telekom’s, Fries said.
Europe-wide, though, Vodafone will end up with 54 million cable TV and broadband customers. Sky, by way of comparison, has just 23 million subscribers.
Vodafone is buying Unitymedia’s debt as part of the deal. “As currently structured, upon closing, a change of control will be triggered with respect to Unitymedia’s debt, and lenders and bondholders will have an option to put their debt to Vodafone,” Liberty Global said.
Fries noted that Liberty Global had generated more than six times its initial investment in Germany.
Liberty Global is getting $12.7 billion in cash out of the Vodafone deal. So where’s it going? The company said it would reveal more in due course, but it would help “optimize growth and shareholder returns.”
According to The Guardian, Malone might now try to buy out the British broadcaster ITV, in which it already owns a 9.9% stake.