Virgin Media is to expand into programme making five years after it sold off its television channels, as it seeks to shore up its pay-TV business and mount a stronger challenge to Sky.
It will soon reveal a tie-up with the production company All3media to joint-commission four original drama series over the next two years, industry sources said.
In another signal of Virgin Media’s renewed ambition in television, its Irish arm is understood to be in advanced talks to acquire UTV Ireland from ITV.
Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster is poised to offload the loss-making Republic of Ireland channel after it bought its Northern Ireland-focused parent company UTV for £100m last October.
Virgin Media’s new dramas will be offered exclusively to its pay-TV customers to compete with Sky’s exclusive dramas on Sky Atlantic, sources said.
It is one of several major investments by the cable operator in its television business this year, including set-top box upgrades and marketing of new films such as Deadpool, designed to reignite growth.
Following its takeover by Liberty Global three years ago, Virgin Media focused on cost cutting and exploiting its speed advantage over BT in the broadband market, while its pay-TV business, which has 3.7m subscribers, went into decline.
The deal with All3media is likely to be seen as a key move in Liberty Global mogul John Malone’s plans to bring together his various network and media assets.
All3media, Britain’s biggest independent producer, was jointly acquired in 2014 for £550m by Liberty Global and Discovery, the US broadcaster in which Mr Malone has a large minority stake.
The multi-million-pound drama series now in the works are meant to appeal to international audiences as well as Britons, for binge watching on demand.
Liberty Global’s cable networks in Germany, the Netherlands and across central Europe will carry the programmes and work with All3media on their own commissions.
It marks a strategic reversal for Virgin Media which, prior to the Liberty Global takeover, sold its 50pc stake in UKTV, the owner of the Dave channel, ending its involvement in programming making.
It recently began buying in programmes from the United States to strengthen its pay-TV package with exclusives but its work with All3media is the first time it has been directly involved again in making programmes.
The takeover of UTV Ireland would represent a consolidation, as Liberty Global already owns TV3, Ireland’s biggest commercial broadcaster.
It would increase Mr Malone’s media clout in his ancestral home, where he is restoring a castle he has dubbed “the green banana”.
ITV and Liberty Global declined to comment.
The cable company is ITV’s biggest shareholder.
© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2016.