US-based Liberty Global is reportedly preparing a pre-emptive bid to acquire the Netherlands’ largest cable operator Ziggo, even as the latter’s owners, private equity firms Cinven and Warburg Pincus, announce they have hired STJ Advisors to prepare for its flotation. Ziggo is being tentatively valued at EUR7 billion (USD9.97 billion) ahead of a possible IPO, and Liberty Global’s chief strategy officer Shane O’Neill is quoted by the Financial Times as saying: ‘We have a track record of not being put off by the prospects of an IPO. It never bothers us. These guys are motivated by money and if you show up with a more attractive bid, they will go for you.’
The US group has been busily snapping up cable assets across Europe. It recently acquired German’s Unitymedia and Kabel, and has been interested in Ziggo for some time – despite already owning the country’s second largest cableco, UPC Nederland. O’Neill also commented on the idea that the Dutch regulator, OPTA, would attempt to bar the takeover on competition grounds, saying it was unlikely. ‘It is the situation that exists in the UK, in France and in Spain,’ he stated. However, unlike the three countries mentioned, the Dutch market is different in that cable is the principal means of distributing TV, with around 70% of homes currently subscribing via this technology. In the UK, France and Spain this percentage is much lower given that satellite, IPTV and DTT also account for sizeable shares of their respective local markets.