Richard Branson will be jetting or quite possibly ballooning (for old time’s sake) into Dublin next Thursday for the 10am launch party in the RDS for Virgin Media, the new name for UPC Ireland.
There has been a degree of inevitability about the rebranding of UPC Ireland to Virgin Media ever since UPC owner Liberty Global bought Virgin Media two years ago for a cool $24 billion.
“Formal co-operation” between UPC Ireland and Virgin commenced last December.
Few of its customers will care that the UPC name began life in the Netherlands as United and Philips Communications, later United Pan-European Communications.
As a household brand in Ireland, it hasn’t quite reached adolescence, with the company ditching its NTL and Chorus names only five years ago.
Brands come and go in the media and communications industry, and so too do business models.
The Virgin Media brand inherits from UPC Ireland some 505,200 “customer relationships” and some 1,099,000 “revenue-generating units”.
These units break down into 379,300 television subscribers, 367,300 broadband subscribers and 352,500 home phone customers.
While UPC’s broadband customer base has surged thanks to its network investment, in television it has been in retreat for some time.
Television customers fell 8.6 per cent in the year to the end of the second quarter and are almost a third lower than they were at the midpoint of 2008.
This has put pressure on both its total number of customers and its revenue, and adding a far from spectacular 1,500 broadband subscriptions in the second quarter won’t have helped.
Virgin Media’s big rival in television is Sky Ireland, but in broadband it is the now com-less Eir, and at its own rebranding part last week Eir acknowledged the importance of broadband, the pipe from which everything else flows, to its future success.
As it stands, Eir has a 35.3 per cent share of the fixed broadband market, followed by UPC/Virgin on 29 per cent, while Sky has an 8.8 per cent market share.
Talk of a potential merger or asset swap between Vodafone and John Malone’s Liberty Global have been circulating for what seems like forever.
Negotiations are said to have stalled, which is good news for everybody else – a Liberty-Vodafone beast would elicit only hollow laughter from its rivals, swiftly followed by grave lobbying of the competition regulator.
Discounting any Vodafone tie-up and allowing for UPC Ireland’s mixed performance of late, Virgin Media can still be expected to embark upon its Irish push with confidence and some brio - only a small proportion of it borrowed from showman Branson, whose Virgin Group licenses the use of the Virgin name to Liberty Global.
Liberty is fresh from acquiring TV3 Group – though the deal has yet to be cleared – while its stake in ITV plc, bumped up to 9.9 per cent over the summer, is one to watch.
Next week’s launch party should also see it unveil more details of its planned mobile offer, which follows a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement with Three.
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