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Virgin in talks with Numericable

Company reportedly discussing rebrand

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is reportedly in discussions with Numericable, France’s largest cable operator, to rebrand the French firm’s services under the Virgin name.

Will Whitehorn, Virgin Group’s corporate affairs and brand strategy director, told Daily Variety the company has had several approaches from cable and satellite operators in Europe to use the Virgin brand, but would not comment on whether it was in discussions with Numericable.

Discussions with Numericable, which covers 9 million households in France, are understood to revolve around a bundling deal in France involving cable broadband and fixed-line telephony, which Numericable already provides, with the possible addition of voiceover Internet protocol (VoIP).

Many analysts see France as a logical starting point for the expansion of the Virgin brand, due to the level of name recognition it already has in the country. In 2005, the no-frills Virgin Mobile network was launched in France in a joint venture with the Carphone Warehouse, Europe’s largest independent retailer of mobile phones and services. Carphone Warehouse will shortly launch Virgin Media bundles in its 780 U.K. outlets.

Virgin has also just had approval on a deal to rebrand Lagardare-owned radio station Europe 2 as Virgin Radio and its music channel Europe2 TV as Virgin 17.

“Virgin Group is free to use the Virgin brand in the cable, satellite, TV and other similar spaces outside the U.K. and we have had several approaches to do so from European territories,” Whitehorn said.

“We have had music and then retail for over 20 years under the Virgin brand and Virgin mobile has been trading in France for a year.”

If an agreement is reached between Virgin and Numericable, similar licensing deals with the brand are expected in other European markets in the near future.

Virgin Group already has a 10% stake in U.K. cable operator Virgin Media, but talks in France have apparently not involved merger or equity arrangements.

The reported discussions in France mark the latest in a series of international expansion forays by the Virgin Group, and come amid unhappiness among some Virgin Media investors regarding the announced abandonment of its planned $23 billion sale, due to turbulence in world financial markets. It is thought that the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, may have lost interest in acquiring Virgin Media in the past few days.

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