Virgin Media set to sell its stake in UKTV

VIRGIN Media is poised to sell its stake in UKTV, the digital broadcaster it jointly owns with BBC Worldwide.

Chief executive Neil Berkett expects to net at least £350m from the sale of the firm’s 50 per cent share, as he seeks to offload non-core assets and focus on Virgin Media’s cable business.

Berkett is said to have appointed UBS and Goldman Sachs to sound out prospective buyers over the next few weeks.

UKTV owns ten digital channels, including Dave, the male-orientated channel that shows repeats of Top Gear and comedy panel shows like Have I Got News for You, and Gold, which airs classic dramas.

Some analysts think the profitable business could fetch as much as £500m if a bidding war breaks out.

BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC that owns the other 50 per cent of the business, will get first refusal when the channels go on the block. Previously, it has expressed interest in owning the venture outright.

But it could come up against stiff competition from Channel 4, which desperately needs a profitable crutch to prop up its loss making channels.

BSkyB is also likely to kick the tyres. In June, it snapped up a smaller package of channels from Virgin Media, including Bravo and Living, for £160m.

Virgin sources said the highly-geared firm was under no pressure to sell, dismissing suggestions that it needs the cash to pay down debt as “utter bunkum”.

FAST FACTS | UKTV
● Was formed as a 50/50 joint venture between Flextech (now owned by Virgin Media) and BBC Worldwide in 1997

● Dave and Yesterday are available on Freeview. The other channels are only on Sky and Virgin