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Liberty Global acquisition drive “slowing down” and turning vertical

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries

Liberty Global is unlikely to acquire fixed networks in further European markets and is not interested in acquiring mobile networks, but could drive consolidation in Poland, according to CEO Mike Fries, speaking to the Wall Street Journal in a joint interview alongside Liberty chairman John Malone.

Fries said that Liberty’s acquisition story “is not coming to an end” but is “slowing down”. He said that Portugal is too small to be interesting while Italy lacks cable and DTH is not a market Liberty Global wants to enter.

Fries said Poland remains a competitive and fragmented market that would benefit from consolidation, while Liberty Global could be interested in other media assets around the globe.

Fries rejected a wider move into mobile via acquisition, characterising mobile operators as “falling knives” that are struggling in a highly competitive environment. He said it made more sense for mobile operators to invest in cable, as Vodafone had done.

Fries said that Netflix was “both” a partner and competitor to Liberty Global, being distributed over Virgin Media’s network in the UK while competing for content rights and video subscribers.

Malone told the Journal that Liberty’s acquisitions will now be more likely to be “vertical” and said that its recent investment in UK commercial broadcaster ITV represented a “good investment” and highlighted the significance for the company of its production studio, which could help to satisfy Liberty Global’s content requirements in other markets. ITV is the latest content investment for the company. Liberty teamed up with Discovery in May to strike a deal to acquire production outfit All3Media.

Malone said Liberty remained interested in investing in Formula One motorsports but that the company was “still kissing the frogs” in an attempt to strike a deal that worked.

Malone also said that Liberty Global is “not for sale” in relation to speculation that Vodafone could bid for the company and added that the company provided an “unusually” high long-term return on investment.

Fries and Malone spoke to the paper on the sidelines of a board meeting in Brussels.