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Virgin Media survives World Cup, buys back shares

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Did the World Cup bring any sunshine to Virgin Media? The company today announced profits of £80m on increased turnover of £964m in its most recent quarter. But long-suffering shareholders take precedence over customers - Virgin will spend £375m buying back shares. Buy-backs usually have the goal of raising the share price.

Virgin also gave itself the target that debt should be reduced to three times its annual operating cashflow "within two to three years". NTL, having absorbed its only cable rival, acquired Virgin Mobile four years ago.

Average revenue per cable user rose to £45.88, the highest ARPU figure yet. Virgin also claimed 9,100 new cable customers, compared to 27,800 in the same period a year ago - although the World Cup must have helped - with gross additions of 188,000, up 18 per cent.

Virgin has had some success in upgrading broadband users to the 50Mbit/s tier - it says 74,000 customers are now on the high-speed service, up 28 per cent in three months.

Virgin says that 79.7 per cent of TV users are also HD+ subscribers, and 62.4 per cent opt for a triple-play bundle of TV, phone and broadband. The financials include Virgin's Mobile business, which saw £136.3m of revenue. Here Virgin is focusing on attracting contract customers - it now has over a million of them - rather than prepay users.

Virgin offloaded its VMtv channels this month to Sky this month, worth an initial £112m; but it retains a stake in UKTV, home to repeats channels Dave and Gold. ®

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