back to article What a Liberty: Virgin Media in buyout talks with telecoms giant

Virgin Media confirmed this morning that it is in buyout talks with cable giant Liberty Global. In a brief statement to the City ahead of it full-year results tomorrow, Virgin Media announced: Virgin Media confirms that it is in discussions with Liberty Global, Inc., a leading international cable company, concerning a …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad news

    SInce the company starts getting overvalued (market price jumps after announcements) by the suitor, they end up paying a bigger price than originally intended, and end up charging the consumers to recoup this costs and justify it to their shareholders.

    Mega takeovers and mergers are never in the customers and consumers inetrests.

    It only fatten the moneymen (ie buyers, shareholders and bankers). Their only interest is how to milk the max out of any venture.

    And end up with poorer service standards.

    1. ForthIsNotDead
      Pint

      Re: Bad news

      However, if you happen to be a shareholder then you'd be delighted...

  2. El Presidente

    Yeah, terrible service ...

    http://speedtest.net/result/2485537737.png

    The only thing wrong with what we get from VM is when staff get involved.

    Invariably, once 'customer services' get involved they screw something up. Every time.

    Like they are wired up out of phase.

    1. Pypes

      Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

      Now do one at 8pm.

      1. El Presidente
        Thumb Up

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        "Now do one at 8pm"

        Will do. Check back here tomorrow. I expect it'll be about the same.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

          Well after Virgin taking well over a year to fix the Bristol issues (with 6 or so of the 25 still outstanding), one would hope they have finally fixed it. Or maybe it is because tons of customers in the Bristol area switched to other isp's after suffering for so long, that the fewer customers made the congestion go away anyway.

          Showing you are ok now do not change the fact that VIrgin broadband in Bristol has been heavily congested and sub standard for so long.

      2. Michael B.

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        I'm in deepest South Bristol, and also have the Samknows monitoring box, and I can tell you from the Stats page that 7pm to 8pm is, on average, one of the fastest times at around 90 Mbps on a 100Mbps line. Even the consolidated stats over a year show the same pattern of higher speeds during the evening.

      3. El Presidente
        Thumb Up

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        @ Pypes

        http://speedtest.net/result/2488340794.png

      4. Matt 5

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        Just to add data points,

        http://www.speedtest.net/result/2488553934.png

        1. Matt 5

          Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

          Oh, I only have 100mb atm. Don't get 120 'til later in the year.

    2. Dazed & Confused
      Stop

      Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

      Where in Bristol did you get that? In BS6 and BS7 the service is basically unusable at peak times.

      1. El Presidente
        Facepalm

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        The test server is in Brizzle, not me.

      2. ZillaOfManilla

        Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

        BS31 is always good, apart from YouTube streaming, but that is a problem all the time.

    3. BigAndos

      Re: Yeah, terrible service ...

      Yeah I remember when I signed up with VM in 2008, my equipment came but they forgot to put the smart card in. I called up their unhelpfuldesk and the smart card not being in the box clearly wasn't in the script so the agent acused me of lying, told me to look properly and said he'd call me back. He never called back so I had to call again the next day.

      Once I actually had a replacement card, and they provisioned it (which inexplicably took 5 days) the service was very good. The connection was a solid 10MB/sec and never dipped unless I broke their "traffic management policy". They just need some better trained call centre staff and (dare I say it) to invest in cabling new areas.

  3. g e
    Joke

    Liberty Global ?

    Never heard of them. Sounds like the kind of co whose 'Defence Arm' has a tagline of 'Freedom From Above'

    1. electricmonk
      Coat

      Re: Liberty Global ?

      Of course I've heard of Liberty. I'm looking forward seeing all Virgin broadband routers clad in nice paisley-patterned fabric covers...

    2. Bob H

      Re: Liberty Global ?

      Liberty owns UPC (large Dutch ISP)

    3. illiad

      Re: Liberty Global ?

      check their page http://www.lgi.com/our-operations.html

      they do South Ireland and half of Europe.. that's why UK have not heard of them...

      (note: the 'British Isles' is the whole lot, south Ireland is not in UK, uses euros, not sterling... :) )

      Oh and Virgin delivers 110% :)

      http://www.speedtest.net/result/2488267082.png

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm confused.

    I'm unsure of the proper use of the term 'buy out'. Is Virgin buying or selling?

    1. bolccg

      Re: I'm confused.

      Same here - I assumed they were buying when I saw the headline but the numbers involved make it look like they must be the target (as does the bit at the bottom about them seeking takeover partners before).

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused.

      Ditto. "Virgin Media in being bought-out talks" seems to be the actual story.

    3. BigAndos

      Re: I'm confused.

      The fact their share price jumped suggests Liberty want to buy Virgin. The share price of the target is always the one that jumps since only the selling shareholders are likely to immediately profit from a deal.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm confused.

      Having their butts saved from certain doom is another way of phrasing it.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Actually takeovers are rarely that good for the company taking over either.

    They user bang on about entry to new markets and synergy but somehow the cash disappears into thin air.

    HP buys Autonomy

    News Corp buys MySpace

    And of course the stunning awfulawsomeness that was the $350Bn Time Warner AOL merger

    (current values of pair c$50Bn)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/business/media/11merger.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Now, with this track record if you're a Liberty Global stockholder perhaps you should ask "WTF could possibly go wrong?"

    Apart from "everything."

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    FAIL

    well we can hope

    that VM get bought out, and the first thing the new owners do is fire the entire customer 'service' dept for being a bunch of useless ****s

    Actually thats not strictly true, once the complaint has been escalated to the scottish call center and you manage to get an engineer sent out(usually the next day) the customer service aint too bad

    I blame the guys who write the call center scripts and demand the help desk people follow the scripts to the letter, then tell them to transfer the call if it goes over 45 seconds.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: well we can hope

      Not forgetting that it's been a VM policy to not hire anyone on first line support who has English as a first language.

    2. annodomini2

      Re: well we can hope

      I just badger them until they put me through to the UK call centre, the standard offshore unit is completely useless, the UK one couldn't be more helpful.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: well we can hope

      "Actually thats not strictly true, once the complaint has been escalated to the scottish call center and you manage to get an engineer sent out(usually the next day) the customer service aint too bad"

      Be very careful what you wish for.

      US companies are very fond of the centralized services idea. I've known one that runs its UK recruitment process from the US through their internal phone network. Staff can only be contact after 1pm in the UK.

      VM customers would share customer services with whoever they use at present wherever they get those services from (odds on bet not the US).

  7. Kimbie

    Expansion

    Maybe if this happens the cable network might get expanded which I do not think it has been done since the NTL days and maybe put BT under more pressure.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't they already own a chunk

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_media#Telewest

    I'm thought they already owned part of Virgin Media, as they owned part of Telewest

  9. Michael Hutchinson
    Thumb Up

    LGI had a big rollout of a decent new online service last year in the Netherlands. If they buy VM then hopefully us VM customers will get something that actually rivals Sky's online offering!

    1. JamesC
      Thumb Down

      hahahaha

      You're joking, right? Sky broadband is a JOKE, as previously covered on El Reg: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/01/22/sky_broadband_adding_customers_first_capacity_after/

      I've been using Comtel/NTL/VM since they fist installed in our city and I've never had a service issue (except when our local cabinet was vandalized).

      To try and say that VM doesn't even rival Sky is just plain stupidity!

      1. Michael Hutchinson
        FAIL

        Re: hahahaha

        Maybe I should have been clearer, Sky's online offering of content blows VM's out of the water.

        1. Red Bren
          Stop

          Re: hahahaha

          "Sky's online offering of content blows VM's out of the water."

          That's because sky own the content and the platform. When virgin dabbled in the content business with their channel 1, sky got scared and bought the channel off them, just so they could shut it down. Now they're using their dominance in one market to get leverage in another. They really should be broken up into content and delivery functions.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: hahahaha

        So you have NEVER had Sky yet you feel qualified to call them a joke. Typical Virgin Fanboi'sm.

        Having had Both Sky and Virgin as my ISP I can safely say that Virgin is the joke mickey mouse isp. Issue after issue on Virgin's broadband due to over subscription and congestion. Not to mention streaming buffering issues that have affected the entire country, or their terrible support and customer service.

        Sky Fibre on the other hand has had none of the hair pulling moments from any contact with the company. Everything streams just fine. I can actually play online games without lag and latency issues. Streaming video and voice over ip works fine. None of my traffic is throttled as well as not having limits throughout the day like virgin where they limit your connection down to 75% of its speed for hitting a limit on its unlimited service.

        Ask anyone who has switched from Virgin broadband to Sky cable and ask them how it compares. Then slap yourself for making the stupid comment above.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pointless

    All this fast infrastructure hampered by the SuperHub - the worst hub from any provider surely (maybe it's just the WiFi). It's also ironic that the adverts made fun of other providers' customers having to wait for streaming - have you tried any HD YouTube videos at 8pm ? A 60mbit/s connection should be streaming Full HD easily and I doubt it's Google's infrastructure that's being stretched.

    1. bolccg
      Thumb Up

      Re: Pointless

      Heartily agree here - our "Super" Hub couldn't sustain a connection to a device literally 2" away for more than about 10 seconds (couldn't assign an IP address before the connection dropped). In the end I just canned the wifi and use our old router for that, daisy chained to the "Super" Hub using a powerline network adapter.

      It astonishes me how long Virgin have let this situation persist - either it is VM's fault somehow or they wrote the most absurd contract with Netgear that they have been penalised somehow. It's woeful and a seemingly endless source of bad PR.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pointless

      Couldn't possibly be because they want you watching via their Tivo STB?

    3. Pypes
      Holmes

      Re: Pointless

      I've also been battling the superduds atrocious Wifi (eventually just plugged in an old ADSL modem / router and set up a new network)

      There is a very long thread about it on the virgin forums, where a guy of an engineering bent decided to get to the bottom of it. Short version is that it's the mini-pci wifi card, it's a known hardware issue and it cannot be fixed "in the next firmware update." There is however a DIY solution, buy a BCM94321 (probably want to check this) and a pair of internal laptop antennas, swap the parts and the superdud should boot as normal, but with magical "works as advertised" wifi.

    4. packman2008
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Pointless

      > A 60mbit/s connection should be streaming Full HD easily and I doubt it's Google's infrastructure that's being stretched.

      Don't be too sure about it not being Google's infrastructure. I regularly watch Youtube videos with friends in the US where we both start watching the same video at exactly the same time (start coordinated by Skype). It's quite common for the same video to stall at the same time for people on different continents.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: watching the same video at exactly the same time

        that's just quantum entanglement. don't do it too often, one of you will disappear

  11. Elmer Phud
    Boffin

    Busy, busy

    I wanted to comment earlier but as the subject is Virgin I had to wait until there were only a couple of people looking at this article.

  12. httpss

    superhub?

    ours reverted spontaneously to factory settings the other day.

  13. Sergiu Panaite
    Trollface

    They're following me!

    I used to work for an LGI subsidiary in Eastern Europe for about a year and a half, now they're following me to the UK too?

    Joking aside, in general LGI seem to be good enough at what they do, and if this were to go ahead I wouldn't expect anything to become worse; okay, maybe the pricing...

  14. BugMan
    FAIL

    Limited Expansion

    Their expansion plans are now so limited, they won't even pull a cable 20m through their existing trunking between their street cabinet and my house to connect me to fibre - on that basis, they lost a customer willing to pay for the complete broadband/phone/tv package.

    Houses that connected in the Telewest days in my street get fibre, the houses next door, with all the infrastructure in place for the service but old RF cable between cabinet and house, get cr@ppy ADSL instead.

    No aspiration, no wonder BT are making fat profits again

    1. BugMan
      Mushroom

      Re: Limited Expansion

      No that I'm bitter or anything......

    2. Rob Beard
      WTF?

      Re: Limited Expansion

      Erm, it's fibre to the cabinet, not to the premises. Good old coax from the cabnet to the house (and a separate phone connection).

      Rob

    3. Sooty

      Re: Limited Expansion

      It's a weird one, especially as they won't cable up new builds. Some places would be a negligible amount of work to add to their network, but they absolutely refuse. Bu they can go to ridiculous lengths for their existing areas.

      One of my friends moved his service to a new house, and after having the local scum cut his cable 3-4 times over a couple of months he got them to come in and dig up the pavement, road, garden, etc. to bury it all.

      Personally, I've thought their cable Internet is outstanding when it works, had great experiences. But I despair of ever having another issue that requires dealing with their support.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        FAIL

        Re: Limited Expansion

        "It's a weird one, especially as they won't cable up new builds. "

        As a business decision I find this completely bizarre.

        New build is the time to install new services and facilities and (potentially) build market share, provided you can let people retain their old phone numbers (can't all telco's offer this?).

        Fibre should remain the state of the art for the foreseeable future. The stuff in the cabinets will change but as long as the fibre can transmit the colours the lasers are using it should last a very long time.

        Obviously if the development is a long way from any exchange, or there are doubts about occupancy (which is always a risk) I can see why VM would not do it but otherwise it seems a no brainer to me.

        Perhaps now they are making a profit they might re-think this policy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Limited Expansion

          The house builders are paid off not to install competing infrastructure. Which is why large housing estates built in the past decade or don't have cable, even tthough all the ducting is in place and it would have been a simple job,

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Limited Expansion

          The problem is there's just no money in it. The market price for high speed broadband doesn't justify the cost of installing it. When it does get installed in an area, less than 15% of households actually take it up - and that's with it priced to not make a return on investment for a decade.

          Skype and inclusive mobile minutes mean that the profit from phone calls has gone too - meaning that any telco is going to be pretty reluctant to start digging up pavements unless the evidence of demand is strong. It takes a long time to pay back £1000 at £15 a month, and that £15 a month is reducing year on year.

          Businesses don't act irrationally - they might make mistakes, but the decisions are usually sound with the information they have to hand.

          A business would make more money by just sticking any spare cash in the bank.

  15. Owen Sweeney

    UPC aka Liberty Global run the cable TV market in most of Ireland, They also have UPC operating in Switzerland, and the Netherlands as already stated. For those of you with TiVo, they are exclusive to VM, so who knows what's going to happen there.

    LGI(UPC) are currrently launching a Sky box buster in their European markets - Horizon. http://horizon.upc-cablecom.ch/en/?intcmp=promo1_experience#welcome has more bumph about it. It offers the ability to record four programmes at the same time.

    Their broadband service is excellent here in Ireland. minimum package is 50Mb and 5Mb up, but they don;t cater for those who want less or cheaper packages. They also provide telephony packs.

    Just a FYI, chaps.

  16. Joseph Lord

    This sort of takeover can make sense

    The existing markets are regionally split with no overlap and the business models and business they are in are essentially identical making it theoretically a good idea although that obviously depends on the price paid. There can really be efficiencies of scale (reduction of local management, branding materials etc.) and negotiating power increase (both for content and kit).

    I think Liberty Global own these already in Europe:

    UPC (NL, Ireland - was NTL, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia...)

    CableCom - (Switzerland)

    Telenet - (Belgum 50% stake)

    UnityMedia and KabelBW - (Germany)

    Aster - (Poland)

    Can't remember what the biggest Austrian cable company was called but they own that too and it may now be UPC branded.

  17. John Ruddy

    Will be good if it means we can get rid of Beardie.

  18. Dogsauce
    Alert

    How evil are the new guys?

    I was going to ditch Virgin soon because of Beardy's role in the dismemberment of our National Health Service, but if someone else is at the helm I might not have to.

    Are these new billionaires nice folks? What are the chances of that?

  19. James 100

    I quit Vermin back in September of last year. I was promised they'd send me a jiffy bag to return the STB and cable modem, but it never showed up. Not really a big deal, so I didn't bother chasing.

    A while later, I pointed this out to their Twitter rep, who said to phone about it. This was in late December. Drone said "OK, I'll send an engineer round to pick it up ... how is next Tuesday afternoon for you?"

    "You mean ... Tuesday, the 25th of December?"

    "Yes, would that do?"

    I was tempted to go for it to see what happened, but moved it back a few days. It's now February, and the kit's still sitting in a corner of the spare bedroom awaiting collection.

    When I had it, the performance was fine - as far as the speedtest.net nodes. Complete junk for accessing real-life sites, of course: video streaming, software downloads, SCPing data to/from my colocated servers for work (probably tripping some anti-P2P measure?). As soon as I switched to a 60 Mbps FTTC product, the buffering disappeared.

    1. Peter 26
      Holmes

      I know exactly what you mean. Check your bandwidth on speedtest and it shows me getting full speed. Try to actually download anything real or stream video and you get 1Mb max...

      The speedtest sites need to start using other protocols than simple http port 80 as clearly that's not being throttled. it wouldn't surprise me if they just hardcoded these speedtest sites in so that they are never throttled.

      1. illiad

        "I know exactly what you mean. Check your bandwidth on speedtest and it shows me getting full speed. Try to actually download anything real or stream video and you get 1Mb max...

        The speedtest sites need to start using other protocols than simple http port 80 as clearly that's not being throttled. it wouldn't surprise me if they just hardcoded these speedtest sites in so that they are never throttled."

        If you dont thrust them, try a REAL download from http://distrowatch.com ... :) make sure you have a *proper* speed monitor like netmeter first...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Curious, who provides your service now?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    60Mbit FTTC

    I'm on a PlusNet one. I downloaded Oracle 11G a week or so back in the evening. It came down at an average of 4Mbytes a sec. Can't grumble there.

    Almost everyone down my street are on VM. The D/L speed in the evenings is almost back to Dialup speeds.

    I saw the BT engineer at the cabinet last Friday. I asked him how many people were using the FTTC from that cabinet.

    He did a quick count and the total came to 5.

    Then he put a smile on my face by saying, you all have a fibre of your own. Only when all have been used up do we change things.

    so there is no contention between my house and the exhange.

    Nice to see BT doing things right for a change.

    Anony coz I don't want them up the road switching from VM.

  21. Vimes

    Just out of curiosity, what does this mean in regards to who can access what when it comes to customer details?

    If VM is owned by a US company then presumably as far as the US government is concerned this would place it under US jurisdiction where the likes of the PATRIOT act is concerned. Will that mean that UK based VM customers will be subject to US law with no say in the matter other than choosing to abandon VM as a supplier?

    1. Ben 47

      It wouldn't change anything

      Customer data would still fall under UK Data Protection Law. The Patriot act wouldn't apply as the company that runs cable in the UK would be a UK Limited company, even if it was owned by a US one.

      Id' expect the same as is true for any other US company such as Amazon, Netflix and others that operate in the UK

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "Id' expect the same as is true for any other US company such as Amazon, Netflix and others that operate in the UK"

        Why?

        AFAIK if it's data on a server in the US (and US companies love centralised services) anyone with a badge can pull your details.

        Your hope is they leave those services in the UK under the control of what will be the UK subsidiary.

        1. Vimes

          @John Smith 19 - the data need not necessarily even be hosted in the US.

          http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/434683/patriot_act_could_apply_rackspace_data_australia_privacy_advocates/

          I would also be wary of expecting telecoms companies to stand up for the rights of customers. One Telco in particular has been taken to court for daring to challenge National Security Letters in court - something that it should be legally permitted to do (so they're basically being sued for complying with the law).

          http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/07/doj-sues-telecom-over-nsl/

          With that sort of heavy handed action by the DoJ it would be hardly surprising if most companies simply rolled over and complied with any request. It would certainly be a lot less painful from their point of view than any alternative.

        2. Terry Barnes

          It's not a hope, it's a legal requirement. To operate in the UK and hold data on UK subjects, you must comply with the Data Protection Act. That includes a ban on exporting data to countries where protections are not broadly equal to those in the EU.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            "It's not a hope, it's a legal requirement. To operate in the UK and hold data on UK subjects, you must comply with the Data Protection Act. That includes a ban on exporting data to countries where protections are not broadly equal to those in the EU."

            Except both the US and Israel are viewed as compatible by the EU with data protection legislation.

            Hence the UK shipping all their car driver test results to the US.

            Where they were promptly lost.

  22. fearnothing
    Mushroom

    "Actually thats not strictly true, once the complaint has been escalated to the scottish call center and you manage to get an engineer sent out(usually the next day) the customer service aint too bad"

    Beg to differ. I got an engineer sent out for my installation. Took over 3 months from that point to get ANY service, they kept stringing me along, and then when I left they had the nerve to try to bill me for early exit. Bloody cheek. They backed down when I wrote to the watchdog.

    Never, ever, EVER again will I touch Virgin Media with a barge pole.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not touching Virgin with a bargepole is something heard time and time again. The barge pole is happy about it too!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upc customer service in nl is pretty dire so I wouldn't get your hopes up that that will improve with the takeover. The horizon box that's sposed to be a sky killer is no fancier than my dad's virgin v+ box. Most of horizon is on the backend as on demand channels which is why you have to take the 60MB/s internet with it.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The whole cable market was designed as competition to BT. Since their launch these smaller local companies have merged and then become Virgin Media. The increasing lack of choice is a bad move.

    You effectively have three or four choices if you are very lucky, often just one.

    BT ISP

    Unbundled operator. if you exchange has local loop unbundling.

    Virgin.

    BT wholesale product via some other ISP.

    So two products requiring some involvement of BT. One requiring a LLU (sufficiently large enough town) and the other requiring you to live in a cabled area.

    It's no wonder ISPs are so crap in this country.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're forgetting EE, O2, 3 and Vodafone.

      Broadband doesn't have to be fixed line.

      1. illiad

        but it does need a big wallet, unless you dont download much.... :/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The existence of Virgin doesn't change the amount of choice you have though, does it? Cable companies were given franchises with defined geographical areas, so in any given location all that would change is that instead of Virgin it would be Nynex or whoever. You still have exactly the same amount of choice - in fact more now because you can have broadand from a cellular operator too.

      If ISPs are 'so crap' it's because what people want more than anything is cheap broadband. There's no incentive for businesses to invest. The users of this site are a small minority - everyone I know who isn't technically minded chooses the cheapest available broadband where they live.

  25. mgumn

    BS6/BS7 Iis deepest darkest student land so no wonder things get so slow in the evening.

  26. Hardwareguy
    Thumb Up

    Perhaps someone needs to tell Liberty Global about the "SuperHub".

    Once they hear how much thats costing VM on a daily basis, they will drop it quicker than a Hot Potato !.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are trailing the Superdud 2 and associated broken firmwares no and for the next few months. Dropping one hot potato for the next.

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