Interview: Mike Fries, Liberty Global

27 Jul 2018 | 08.14 am

Interview: Mike Fries, Liberty Global

New set-top box coming from Virgin Media

27 Jul 2018 | 08.14 am

Virgin Media will shortly introduce a new set-top box “which will look as good as anything you get from Apple or others”, according to Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global.

Liberty owns the Virgin Media cable TV, internet and telephony business, as well as the TV3 television channels, which are being rebranded as Virgin Media TV on August 30.

Fries concedes that the rebranding process is always something of a concern. “In the long run, this is the right move,” he added. “Sky is a vertically integrated company – I don’t think anyone now would question whether Sky should have called Sky Sports Sky Sports. They’ll say that it’s a brilliant idea. You’re going to be in the same place here in the end.”

The new Virgin Media Sports channel will offer a line-up of UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Six Nations Championship, and live horse racing. “We have experience with sports channels in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland and they have been very successful for us,” said Fries . “The bedrock of the sports channel will be the 320 UEFA matches we’ll show each year, and we’re looking forward to bringing those to our existing subscribers at no extra charge.”

Since being acquired by Liberty Global in 2015, TV3 stations have grown market share to 20%. TV3 says it is number one in the market when it comes to commercial impacts – the share of the available advertising market – with a share in the high 30s.

Content Aggregator

According to Fries: “We are a meta-aggregator of content. We will provide people will great content both from our own channels and other linear channels, video services, and from other providers like Netflix.

“Our customers will pay for the content once and be able to access it on any device anywhere. Consumers don’t want to work hard to access the content they want, and we will make it easier for them to do that.”

Fries added that the ability to integrate TV with distribution is very powerful. “On balance, we would favour deregulation over more regulation,” he said. “For example, if Eir made the case they are over-regulated we would probably support them on that. Our experience in Europe over the past 10 to 15 years is that when you reduce regulation and unleash companies to compete against each other, that’s when the magic happens.”

Liberty Global, led by chairman John Malone, is the world’s largest international TV and broadband company, with operations in 11 European countries under the consumer brands Virgin Media, Unitymedia, Telenet and UPC.

Virgin Media’s mobile service, launched two years ago, has around 65,000 subscriptions, using Three’s mobile network to act as a virtual network operator. “It’s not a lot but there’s the beginnings of a mobile business there,” said Fries. “We have a very good MVNO agreement – probably the best we have in Europe. There’s upside and potential here for us as a challenger, a small operator getting bigger.”

On Eir’s new owner, Xavier Niel and Iliad, Fries commented:  “I’m not sure which Iliad will show up here yet – nobody is. We don’t shy away from competition. It’s great that there’s a new player in Ireland to put money into the network.”

 

Photo: Mike Fries (left) with John Malone and Tony Hanway (right), CEO of Virgin Media Ireland. (Pix: Julien Behal Photography)

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