Liberty looks to content investments to secure distribution business

UPC NetherlandsInvestment in OTT content, free-to-air broadcasting, production outfits and sports rights form four pillars of Liberty Global’s new content investment strategy, according to president and CEO Mike Fries, with all four seen as ways to reinforce the company’s core distribution business.

Following Liberty’s sale of its Chellomedia linear channel business to AMC, the company, far from turning away from content, has made a series of high-profile investments in different sectors in different markets – notably an investment in OTT rights for the My Prime streaming service in the Netherlands – designed specifically to counter Netflix; an investment in a 50% stake Flemish free-to-air broadcaster De Vijver and a 6% stake in UK commercial broadcaster ITV; and its acquisition of production outfit All3Media with Discovery. It has also invested in non-exclusive rights to Belgium’s Jupiler League through Belgium.

Speaking to analysts after the company’s quarterly results this week, Fries said that Liberty’s content investments were “generally long term strategic moves”, with the partial exception of ITV, which is seen more as an opportunistic investment with some strategic benefits.

Fries highlighted the success of the My Prime streaming service in the Netherlands, which is offered free of charge to premium cable subscribers and for €5.60 to basic subs. He said the service had been tried by over half of entitled subscribers. Fries said My Prime “pre-empts” Netflix, which launched in the Netherlands last year, by offering a similar SVoD product “for free”.

On De Vijver, Fries said that the acquistion of a 50% stake would strengthen local subsidiary Telenet by providing access to content and production facilities that could be used to feed linear and SVoD channel offerings,  while its investment in All3Media provided access to a large catalogue of content.

Fries said that Liberty’s investment in De Vijver and ITV also provided “a hedge” against the imposition of US-style retransmission rights, forcing distributors to pay for the right to transmit free-to-air channels on their networks.

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