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Virgin Media mulls takeover approach

Cable network on the block again

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Virgin Media, bowed by its protracted legal tussle with Sky, has again become the target of a takeover approach by private equity carpetbaggers.

Reports say the Virgin Media board is considering a $10bn (about £4.9bn) punt from the Carlyle Group, a consortium which also made an approach last year, but was rebuffed.

This time round, Richard Branson, who bagged the largest share in the firm when NTL:Telewest bought Virgin Mobile, is now said to back a sale, though would hang on to his holding. His Virgin Group retains control over the Virgin brand, which was slapped on NTL:Telewest at a cost of £25m.

Carlyle's offer values Virgin Media at between $33 and $35 per share. It closed on Nasdaq on Friday at $24.37. Other private equity funds are also considering making a bid, meaning the sale would enter an auction process that would take several weeks.

Virgin's bosses reportedly reckon that delisting the firm would allow more dynamic moves to stimulate growth, without the scrutiny of the quarterly updates demanded by the stock market.

A private equity deal for Virgin Media would rank as the second biggest ever, after the sale of high street stalwart Boots, which went for £11.1bn in May. The boom in the sector means any large company perceived as lacking direction is likely to be targeted. ®

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