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’99 dip doesn’t deter United Pan-Europe

2000 losses could rise above $1 billion

AMSTERDAM — United Pan-Europe Communications reported massive losses in its 1999 annual report, sending share prices skittering downward. Nevertheless, the company says it plans to continue its unprecedented buying spree across the European continent throughout 2000.

UPC racked up a whopping 784 million Euro ($745 million) in net losses in 1999 on revenues of $425 million. Charles Bracken, chief financial officer of UPC, told a press conference Wednesday in Amsterdam that the losses could rise above $1 billion this year as UPC continues with an aggressive “plan to continue heavily acquiring in the year 2000.”

He added the company would clearly have to find other means of raising money, aside from the stock market, but noted that plans are in the works to float several of its companies, including UPC Media and Chello.

Cable main rev source

Cable is UPC’s main revenue earner, and the total number of subscribers rose in 1999 to 5.83 million, up 71% from 3.41 million a year earlier. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell from $48 million in 1998 to $114 million in 1999, blamed on startup costs of Internet and telephony interests.

Bracken unveiled additional info about UPC’s latest acquisition bid, a takeover of European channel launcher SBS Broadcasting, for $2.8 billion. Plans are to cross-pollinate SBS’s free-to-air television and advertising activities into UPC Media.He dismissed the deal’s main weakness, a lack of proprietary content, telling Daily Variety UPC considers it more important “to buy it from others and deploy it across all our networks.”

Bracken said UPC’s much-vaunted triple play of assets in voice, video and Internet data services available through a set-top box wouldn’t be launched across Europe until “we see how it does in Amsterdam.” That launch is set for the third quarter.

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