a media industry resource

NTL and Telewest


This page looks at UK cable television operators ntl and Telewest and at Richard Branson.

It covers -

  • ointroduction
  • ontl
  • Telewest
  • Branson and Virgin
  • studies


The UK cable television market is dominated by ntl and Telewest, which agreed a £3.3bn merger in 2005 and then made a £817m bid for Virgin Mobile

Both groups expanded aggressively during the late 1990s, competing with free-to-air (eg the BBC, Granada and Carlton) and satellite/microwave (eg Murdoch-controlled BSkyB) television and traditional connectivity providers such as BT (the UK counterpart of Australia's Telstra).

They secured major investments, notably from Liberty and its affiliates - as part of the TCI/Liberty push to dominate the European cable television market - and from Microsoft. However, rollout of infrastructure and buying market share resulted in recurrent large losses.

That proved unsupportable after the dotcom and telco crash. Both groups were restructured from 2002 onwards, effectively wiping out the equity of existing shareholders.


As of 2005 ntl is the UK's largest cable television operator and a leading provider of broadband and communications services. It has over 3.3 million residential telephone, subscription television and internet customers (a third of them broadband subscribers), as well as providing wholesale internet access solutions to ISPs in the UK.

NTL was founded as International CableTel by Barclay Knapp and George Blumenthal with US$25m from the US$2.8 billion sale to Airtouch of mobile phone operator Cellular Communications.

It acquired National Transcommunications Ltd, the privatised national transmission business for the former Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), thus gaining responsibility for distributing ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 television signals via 1,500 broadcast towers in the UK. That operation, later expanded through acquisition of ntl in Australia, was unloaded in 2004 to a consortium led by Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group (MCG) for £1.27 billion.

The ntl corporate site is here.


As of 2005 Telewest passes and markets to 4.7 million homes and provides multi-channel television, telephone and internet services to 1.8 million residential customers and 3.87 million revenue generating units. Telewest Business, its business division, supplies broadband communications to public and private sector markets.

Flextech, Telewest's content division, has 5 wholly owned pay television channels and one free-to-air channel. Flextech is also the BBC's partner in UKTV. Together they are the largest supplier of basic channels to the UK pay television market with a portfolio that combines wholly owned and managed channels, including the ten UKTV Channels.

The Telewest corporate site is here.


There has been no major study of Telewest or ntl. For insights about the cable television industry and TCI see works highlighted in the Liberty profile elsewhere on this site.