Chorus parent rings in revenues of US$2.5bn

14 Mar 2005

UnitedGlobalCom (UGC), which acquired Irish cable operator Chorus for €55m last year and is currently in the race to acquire NTL Ireland, has reported annual revenues of US$2.5bn up 34pc.

The company said that excluding the impact of foreign exchange rates and the acquisitions of Noos and Chorus, organics year-over-year revenue growth was 10.5pc for fiscal 2004 as a result of higher average revenue per user (ARPU) and revenue-generating units (RGU).

The company said total European revenue increased 34pc to €2.2bn due to a 35pc increase in its core triple-play operation, UPC Broadband. Revenues in western Europe increased 18pc (€215m) (excluding Noos and Chorus) on the previous year. Meanwhile revenue in central and eastern Europe increased 30pc.

Monthly ARPU per RGU, excluding acquisitions, for the last quarter of 2004 was US$20.67, an increase of 16.6pc over the year. In total, the company said it had 11.6 million subscribers or RGUs, including 1.9 million it would have gained by acquiring Noos and Chorus.

The company revealed that it has a long-term debt to date of US$4.9bn, but said it had cash and cash equivalents of US$1bn.

In addition to the company’s cash balances, the company said that due to a partial refinancing of its European credit facility the company currently has €1bn available and combined with the market value of its interests in SBS Broadcasting and Austar United it has a total liquidity of more than US$3bn.

It has been reported that the company has a war chest of €1bn, which it will use to make acquisitions. The company last week submitted a bid to acquire NTL Ireland along with four other bidders and has been tipped as a probable favourite. Observers say NTL Ireland could sell for around €300m. However, if UGC emerges successful in its bid it is likely to have a separate battle on its hands with the Competition Authority due to its already sizeable presence in the Irish market following its acquisition of Chorus last December. It is understood that NTL Ireland has 343,600 customers in the country.

Looking to 2005, the company expects revenues to grow 20pc, driven by aggressive rollouts of digital phone services such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP)across Europe as well as broadband rollout. The company also expects to add 800,000 cable subscribers to its respective networks during 2005.

Commenting on the results, UGC president and CEO Mike Fries, said: “We made significant progress on a number of our strategic initiatives during the fourth quarter, including the launch of our digital phone VoIP services in The Netherlands and Hungary, as well as successful trials of 30Mbps broadband internet speeds and ‘off-net’ voice and data services outside of our cable footprint. We have added more than 55,000 digital phone subscribers since October of last year and this month we expect to begin the commercial launch of our digital phone products across France. In addition, we are planning upcoming launches of digital phone services in Austria, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Poland and Czech Republic and, in total, we expect to have 5.5 million VoIP homes serviceable this summer.

“Consistent with our strategy of disciplined footprint expansion, we completed several acquisitions in the quarter, including Irish pay-TV provider Chorus, an indirect 14pc interest in Belgian cable company Telenet. In February 2005, we closed the acquisition of Telemach, one of the largest cable company in Slovenia. We applied the same disciplined approach to the purchase of ZoneVision, a global programming company with a significant presence in eastern Europe,” Fries said.

By John Kennedy