U.K. cabler Telewest, NTL talking merger

LONDON — The U.K.’s second-biggest cable operator, Telewest, and communications group NTL are in early talks about a possible merger.

The new company would supplant Cable & Wireless Communications as Britain’s No. 1 operator — reaching 7 million homes as opposed to CWC’s 5.4 million — and would further consolidate the beleaguered U.K. cable industry.

Very informal stage

“NTL have talked to Telewest,” a Telewest spokesman told Daily Variety, “but it is at a very informal stage at the moment and there is nothing concrete.”

Should the two companies merge, it is speculated that media group United News & Media — which owns the Anglia and Meridian ITV network companies and a stake in the young terrestrial Channel 5, and is in the process of acquiring HTV, another ITV company — might take a minority share in the venture.

United recently became a partner with NTL in the digital terrestrial TV venture S4C Digital Networks, which was set up by the Welsh TV net, S4C.

A move by United into cable would be another way for the company to avoid being outdistanced by the largest ITV companies, Carlton and Granada, who won the license for the bulk of the coming digital terrestrial TV channels through their joint venture, British Digital Broadcasting.

Because the U.K.’s cable industry is deeply in debt, a Telewest/NTL merger is unlikely to involve cash. United coming in would probably also be mainly a paper consideration.

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