UPC, Canal Plus in cahoots?

Merged co. would be largest Dutch feevee

AMSTERDAM — Gallic paybox Canal Plus and United Pan Europe Communications in the Netherlands are refusing to comment on reports that UPC wants to buy Canal Plus Netherlands.

The purchase would make UPC the biggest pay TV operator in the territory. UPC, already the largest cable company in Holland, is a subsid of UnitedGlobalCom, a U.S. company controlled by John Malone’s Liberty Media.

The Dutch market is a difficult one for pay TV because there are so many free TV channels. With an estimated 300,000 subscribers, Canal Plus Netherlands is the most successful feevee outfit so far. UPC has some 50,000 subscribers, and Casema, a subsidiary of France Telecom, 30,000.

UPC is in no position to prowl for assets, however. It’s in the middle of a court battle that is holding up a much needed restructuring aimed at addressing the company’s $11.8 billion debt. “UPC is not able to make acquisitions prior to its emergence from restructure,” said a spokesman.

The Dutch Supreme Court is mulling the case of a shareholder seeking to block the restructuring and is expected to rule in UPC’s favor when the court meets, possibly as early as mid-August.

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