Carlyle Group makes bid for Virgin

Offer is between $33 and $35 a share

U.S. private equity giant Carlyle Group has made a bid for U.K. cabler Virgin Media, created less than a year ago from the debris of U.K. cablers NTL and Telewest, for about $11 billion. Carlyle’s preliminary offer is for between $33 and $35 a share, but the board may hold out for $40 a share.

However, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, the largest investor in Virgin Media with a 10.5% stake, has indicated that he intends to remain a stockholder.

In a statement, the Nasdaq-quoted combo confirmed that a bid to buy 100% of the company had been made (Daily Variety, July 1) and its advisers, Goldman Sachs, were examining “strategic alternatives.”

The statement added: “The company has not engaged in negotiations with the offeror. The proposal is based on public information and is subject to various conditions, including a due diligence examination and a period of exclusivity.”

The proposal also states that it will be withdrawn if its terms are publicly disclosed.

“Prior to the receipt of the proposal, the company’s board of directors had initiated a review with Goldman Sachs of strategic alternatives, including a process for a possible sale of the company. The proposal will be considered as part of the review. However, there is no assurance that any transaction will occur or, if so, at what price.”

Providence, another private equity group, is understood to have assembled a consortium of private equity players to bid for Virgin.

The outfit, involved in a bruising spat with Europe’s biggest pay box BSkyB, may welcome the chance to be out of the spotlight that being a publicly listed company entails.

Virgin Media’s winter U.K. launch was derailed by the row with BSkyB, which refused to renew a carriage deal in February for several Sky channels, including Sky One.

The dispute has hit Virgin hard, costing it new subscribers despite a $50 million marketing blitz.

In its last results, Virgin reported it had 3 million TV subscribers, 3.4 million broadband customers, 4.5 million mobile phone subscribers and 4.1 million fixed-line telephone customers.

BSkyB has more than 8 million subscribers.

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