Rupert Murdoch's Sky could face serious rival in Liberty Global

Billionaire tycoon John Malone's company in takeover talks with Virgin media

LAST UPDATED AT 09:57 ON Tue 5 Feb 2013

A BILLIONAIRE investor once nicknamed the 'Darth Vader of the cable industry' by Al Gore could go head-to-head with Rupert Murdoch in the UK market.

John Malone's company, Liberty Global, is preparing a bid for Virgin Media. The move to take over the £6.5bn company would put it in control of UK's second-largest pay television operator and in direct competition with market leader BSkyB, which is controlled by Murdoch's News Corp, the Financial Times reports.

Virgin media's stock has risen 60 per cent in the last year, The Times notes, and it is seen as a viable competitor to BSkyB with 3.78 million TV customers. The company confirmed Liberty Global's approach this morning saying they were in discussions with the leading cable company over a "possible transaction". They said in a short statement to the stock market: "Any such transaction would be subject to regulatory and other conditions."

Malone, 71, is an occasional enemy and former business partner of Murdoch, MoneyWeek notes. The tycoon audaciously became the second-largest stakeholder in NewsCorp in 2004, before leveraging his stake to grab Murdoch's interest in DirecTV, the US satellite business. Murdoch later hired News Corp's President and Deputy Chairman Chase Carey from Malone in 2009, a year before his contract was due to end.

Liberty Global, if successful in a bid to control Virgin Media, will compete in a crowded UK market with BT Vision as well as BSkyB. One billionaire tycoon who is not involved is Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group has a small stake in the media division and will not be able to veto a possible deal with Malone. · 

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