US cable giant Liberty Global has bought Virgin Media for $23.3bn, creating the largest broadband company in the world on terms of customer and country reach.
The move will give Virgin Media a massive boost in its battle with BskyB, and puts new owner US billionaire John Malone in competition with Rupert Murdoch.
Murdoch’s media empire News International owns 39% of BSkyB.
BSkyB continues to dominate the UK’s paid TV market with its 10.7 million customers, which greatly outmatches Virgin Media’s 4.9 million.
Virgin Media was formed in 2006 following the merger of NTL, Telewest and Virgin Mobile, which was owned by Sir Richard Branson.
Liberty Global has agreed to buy Virgin Media UK from Branson in a cash and stock deal worth £23.3bn (£15bn).
The deal will leave Liberty Global with 25 million customers in 14 countries, making it the world’s largest broadband firm.
Mike Fries, chief executive of Liberty Global, said: “Adding Virgin Media to our large and growing European operations is a natural extension of the value creation strategy we’ve been successfully using for over seven years.”
Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media, said: “The combined company will be able to grow faster and deliver enhanced returns by capitalising on the exciting opportunities that the digital revolution presents, both in the UK and across Europe.”
Today’s deal will leave Branson with a 3 per cent stake in the company, which will continue to maintain its 30-year brand licensing agreement with the Virgin Group.