Telefonica’s O2 in merger talks with Virgin Media in Britain

Telefonica confirmed it was in talks with billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global over a possible merger of their respective businesses in Britain.
The two have started a negotiation process to merge Telefonica’s British mobile operator O2 and Liberty’s Virgin Media network company, the Spanish company said in a stock market filing.

Vodafone, one of the rivals of Telefonica, in July 2019 completed the acquisition of Liberty Global’s operations in Germany and the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania for a total enterprise value of €18.4 billion.

Telefonica said it would keep markets informed if a “satisfactory agreement” were reached. The company reports first-quarter results on May 7.

Telefonica has struggled to boost profit growth in the face of fierce competition and reassure investors it can manage a debt pile which stood at 37.74 billion euros at the end of last year, Reuters reported.

Its UK business, which includes O2, generated 7.11 billion euros in revenue in 2019, around 14.7 percent of the group’s total, and had 34.5 mobile connections on its network.

Virgin Media competes with UK pay-TV market leader Sky, owned by Comcast, in pay-TV, and with BT, Sky, TalkTalk and others in broadband. BT acquired EE.

Virgin Media had 6 million cable customers and 3.3 million mobile customers as of the end of 2019.

Telefonica has been weighing options for the mobile business since 2016 when a previous $12.8 billion O2 takeover bid from Three UK, controlled by CK Hutchison Holdings, was blocked by European antitrust regulators.

Combining O2 and Virgin Media would reshape Britain’s telecoms industry, leaving Hutchison and Vodafone without their own fixed-line consumer networks and raising pressure on BT.

The deal would allow Telefonica a way to cash out from O2 while keeping a presence in Britain, where – along with Spain, Germany and Brazil – it aims to focus its efforts to boost revenue by 2 billion euros under a new strategic plan.