IPC goes on sale for up to £1.5bn

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IPC, the magazine group that publishes Marie Claire and Woman's Own, has been put up for sale with a price tag of up to £1.5bn.

Telewest, the telecoms and television group, is among the bidders for the publisher, which was acquired by Cinven, the private equity group, for £860m two years ago.

CinVen decided to sell the business after it received a number of approaches. It has appointed Goldman Sachs and Warburg Dillon Read to examine the options.

Telewest, which is in the closing stages of completing its merger with Flextech, the cable TV operator, is keen to develop its "content" offering in the new information age. IPC can provide internet content through its publications' websites, and television shows based on its magazines. IPC, meanwhile, needs a digital distribution system.

The media industry has been driven by the desire for the convergence of technology and content, taking its lead from the ground-breaking merger of Time Warner and America Online. One source close to Telewest said: "Telewest is after content to drive and retain audience viewing. It would be surprising if they weren't talking to Cinven. The conversations are at an extremely early stage."

A deal is thought to be some weeks off. Several groups are already thought to have shown interest, including Bertelsmann of Germany.

Telewest has said that it wants to become a leading content producer and a magnet for interactive content ideas. That means that it must do deals.

Adam Singer, chief executive of Flextech, will lead the combined group's acquisition of content. Tony Illsley, Telewest's chief executive, announced last month that he would quit the company once the merger with Flextech had been completed.

In the year to 30 September 1999, IPC reported, group operating profits fell by 3 per cent to £65.6m. In October, Sly Bailey was brought in as chief executive to improve the publisher's performance.