Another potential buyer has been added to the throng reportedly circling Balkan cable network and satellite pay-TV group United Group (also known as SBB-Telemach), currently majority-owned by UK-based private equity house Mid Europa Partners (MEP), with a minority stake held by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). According to banking sources quoted by TMT Finance, recent interest in United Group has come from Liberty Global’s mainland European cable division UPC, which if leading to a purchase would see UPC retake control of the Slovenian cableco (Telemach Slovenia) it sold to MEP in 2009. According to the report, UPC is scheduled to discuss the possible deal with the sellers next week, with one banker offering an explanation for the move by pointing out that Telemach Slovenia (formerly UPC Slovenia) was ‘too small’ an asset by itself, but represents a more attractive asset for Liberty Global now it is part of an enlarged regional group.
United Group (with its registered office in Luxembourg) consists of three multi-service cablecos – Serbia Broadband (SBB), Telemach Slovenia and Telemach Bosnia & Herzegovina – plus the satellite TV platform ‘Total TV’ operating across six countries, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia (FYROM), while the group also offers data and voice services to small, medium and large companies across the region. United Group has 1.7 million revenue generating units (RGUs), while 90% of its revenues derive from Serbia and Slovenia. MEP appointed Credit Suisse to lead a sale of United Group earlier this year, and has sought a price close to EUR950 million (USD1.26 billion), although a more realistic valuation is thought to be around EUR850 million. Potential buyers said to be in the race include Providence Equity Partners (advised by Societe Generale), Altice Group (advised by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley), KKR (advised by Lazard and Citi), Telekom Austria Group (reportedly advised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch) and Cinven. Blackstone, CVC and Telenor Group had all previously been linked with the cable group, only to withdraw from the acquisition process.
UPC sold Telemach Slovenia to MEP in a deal completed in July 2009 for an undisclosed exact price, although the fund had earlier set aside EUR130 million-EUR150 million for the purchase.