Liberty Global, Vodafone battle to divvy up Europe's cable TV business

The U.S. is hardly the only place where cable consolidation efforts--spurred at least in part by industry icon John Malone--are happening. In Europe, Malone's Liberty Global (Nasdaq: LBTYA) is in a battle with Vodafone Group to build continent-dominating pay TV empires.

Most recently, Liberty said it would (with regulatory approval, of course) buy up the remaining portion of Dutch broadband player Ziggo it didn't already own and create a single powerful Dutch cable TV entity. Vodafone, meanwhile, reportedly out from under the shadow of a potential AT&T (NYSE: T) acquisition and flush with funds after its Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) assets divestiture, is looking to acquire Spain's Grupo ONO SA if and when it comes up for an IPO.

That's led to speculation that Malone, too, could be sniffing around the Spanish service provider.

The two have a history of competing, with Vodafone most recently beating out Liberty to grab Germany's Kabel Deutschland. An ONO acquisition would make sense since Vodafone already has a mobile phone network in that market.

"Vodafone has a cash stockpile and Liberty has a stated acquisitions strategy," Ovum telecommunications analyst Steven Hartley told Bloomberg. "As cable opportunities arise in Europe they will be the usual suspects."

Liberty, meanwhile, has been on a buying binge for at least the last 10 years where it's spent $50 billion to buy European properties in Eastern Europe, Germany and Scandinavia. Malone's potential interest in ONO was sparked by a comment to Bloomberg last year that he would be interested in southern European opportunities.

ONO, though, may take a backseat to a potential move on Belgium's Telenet Group, of which Liberty Global already owns 58 percent and could make a part-and-parcel play with Ziggo.

Of course Malone, the largest shareholder of U.S. cable operator Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR), has been credited with spearheading that MSO's attempt to buy up Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

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