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Virgin Media boss quits

U.K. cable company hits new low

LONDON — In a surprise move, the head of the beleaguered U.K. cable company Virgin Media is ankling with immediate effect “for family and person reasons.”

Steve Burch, the former Comcast topper who oversaw the merger of rivals NTL and Telewest as Virgin Media in February, is to return to the U.S.

Virgin Media, hit by poor subscriber numbers and a bruising row with rival BSkyB, said Burch would “leave the company with immediate effect.”

Virgin Media chairman Jim Mooney said: “Steve has contributed significantly to the transformation of Virgin Media.

“Since he joined us, the company has emerged as the U.K.’s only ‘quad play’ provider and a genuinely distinctive presence in the world of communications and entertainment.”

Virgin Media’s emergence as a provider of entertainment, broadband and telephony services is proving difficult in a market as competitive as the U.K.

Within weeks of the winter relaunch, talks broke down with BSkyB over carriage fees for several Sky stations, including Sky One, as Burch upped the ante by taking part in a public slanging match with BSkyB.

The spat with the satcaster left Virgin Media auds minus episodes of high profile skeins like “Lost” and “The Simpsons.”

Earlier this month, Virgin Media revealed it had lost 70,300 customers during the second quarter of 2007, while BSkyB recently posted better than expected subscriber numbers.

To make matters worse, a planned auction of Virgin Media, which has attracted interest from private equity groups, was recently delayed because of the international credit crisis.

Virgin Media said a search for Burch’s successor would begin shortly.

Neil Berkett, Virgin Media’s chief operating officer, will take over as acting CEO.

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