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Liberty Global sets focus on OTT, free broadcasting and sports

Mike Fries

Mike Fries

Liberty Global is focused on opportunistic and strategic investments in over-the-top content, sports rights and free-to-air broadcasters and programming, according to president and CEO Mike Fries.

Speaking at the CTAM Europe EuroSummit in Copenhagen this morning, Fries said that though Liberty Global is “very much a cable company first,” it needs to support its distribution business with high quality content.

“We’re investing more in content these days. We are looking at over-the-top content, free to air broadcasting and production, and sports, because it’s our view that we need to make sure we’re fuelling the distribution business with great stuff and we’re not being excluded from great stuff,” said Fries.

Referring to OTT delivery, Fries said Liberty was “over-investing in the SVOD category” because it recognises that people want to invest content in that manner.

Specifically, he said, Liberty is spending more on “our version of Netflix,” called MyPrime, which is available on Liberty’s Horizon platform and its on-demand networks and currently offers some 1,200 movies and 2,000 hours of series.

Fries said Liberty was looking at direct production opportunities, citing Liberty and Discovery Communications’ buyout of UK-based TV programme maker and distributer All3Media for £550 million (€673 million) earlier this year,

However, he denied that investing in content was a risky strategy in case of a downturn, saying that ad-based businesses, rather than content makers, are subject to more cyclical risk and that “sports rights don’t necessarily wane in tough times.”
Liberty currently holds football rights in Belgium through its Telenet subsidiary and was reported earlier this year to be in talks with CVC Capital Partners and Lehman Brothers Holdings about buying a 49% stake in Formula One.

On the channels front, Fries defended Liberty’s decision to sell off its Chellomedia channels business to AMC for €750 million last year.

“The truth of the matter is that that cooking channel in Hungary or that kids channel in Poland really didn’t make people subscribe to our services, as much as we loved them – they were great products and great channels,” said Fries.

“We exited that business and decided to put our money into direct content investments that we felt for a time would really drive the distribution platform.”

Talking about free-to-air broadcaster investments, Fries said: “We are looking at free-to-air broadcasters because in Europe broadcasters still get 70% of the eyeballs, unlike the US. So those networks give us reach and give us presence.”

Despite this, Fries said that Liberty had no plans to take a majority stake in UK terrestrial broadcaster ITV, having bought 6.4% stake in the business for £481 million (€608 million) back in July.

“We bought that really because we thought the company was undervalued. We like that management team and that operation, [but it] doesn’t mean we’re going to go and buy the company,” said Fries.

“It’s a very large business and it’s not what we’re planning today, but we like the strategic dialogue that we’re having with ITV. It’s our largest commercial broadcaster, they make television globally and they’re a great company.”