Virgin to sell UKTV stake

Potential bidders may include BSkyB, C4

Virgin Media has put its 50% stake in U.K. pay TV channel portfolio UKTV on the market for a reported £350 million ($558 million).

Potential buyers are said to include News Corp. satcaster BSkyB and Channel 4, whose CEO David Abraham used to run UKTV.

BBC Worldwide, which owns the other half of UKTV, has first refusal and the right to OK any new owner.

However, were BBC Worldwide to own UKTV outright, it might pose political problems for the BBC, which is already under fire from rivals for what they claim is continuous empire building.

UKTV was set up in 1997 by BBC Worldwide and Flextech, the content-arm of Telewest. Virgin inherited the channels in 2007 in a merger with NTL Telewest — and the possible sale had been touted before that deal went through.

Recently, Virgin CEO Neil Berkett, who for some time has refocused the firm on content delivery rather than content per se, confirmed a sale was in the pipeline.

The Sunday Times said UBS and Goldman Sachs have been appointed to find a buyer, but neither would confirm that.

Earlier this month Virgin Media sold seven TV channels to BSkyB for $255 million, including Living and Bravo.

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