Combined group would be worth $10.5 mil

LONDON — The U.K.’s leading cablers, Telewest and NTL, are getting close to their long-mooted merger talks.

Telewest has hired investment bank Rothschild to advise on the merger, according to the Financial Times. Both cablers are listed on Nasdaq and share some of the same stockholders, including U.S. fund WR Huff Asset Management.

The combined group, worth more than £5.8 billion ($10.5 billion), will be able to flex financial muscle in the fight for viewers against Rupert Murdoch’s dominant satcaster BSkyB and digital terrestrial service Freeview.

But the cablers will have to sprint to catch up with their rivals. While NTL has 1.4 million digital TV subscribers and Telewest has 1.2 million, BSkyB has 7.7 million. Freeview, which is owned by the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle, goes into 4.5 million homes.

Telewest owns content business Flextech, which consists of UKTV, a 50-50 joint venture with the BBC, and other digital channels including Living TV. Flextech is likely to be sold before the merger; valuations for the company have ranged between $818 million and $1.8 billion.

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