BBC makes play for NTL's £1.5bn broadcast business

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The Independent Online

The BBC is to enter the race to buy NTL's £1.5bn broadcast business as part of a strategy to boost its commercial aspirations.

The corporation is planning to team up with venture capital group Hicks Muse Tate & Furst to make the bid.

But the BBC is not interested in buying the hundreds of television masts within the NTL business, as it was forced by the Government to sell its own portfolio to Crown Castle. Instead, it wants to get its hands on NTL's "satellite uplinking" technology, which connects outside broadcast studios via satellite.

BBC will make the approach to NTL through its technology division, controlled by Roger Flynn, the commercial director of resources and technology.

Other potential bidders for the NTL business include France Telecom, Carlisle Partners and DB Capital Partners.

NTL, run by Barclay Knapp, is selling its masts and satellite technology as part of a plan to reduce its £12bn debt mountain.

It is understood that the BBC is interested in acquiring the NTL technology to help realise ambitions to sell its technical programme-making skills to other broadcasters and production companies. The BBC is planning to launch the new commercial unit, which will also be under the control of Mr Flynn, in January.

To be named BBC Broadcast, the self-financing business will specialise in production, subtitling, electronic programme guides and the development of trailers. Mr Flynn is said to want the unit also to offer outside broadcasting services, which explains his interest in NTL's satellite equipment.

BBC Broadcast will also have access to a new "media village" to be developed at White City, west London.

Plans for BBC Broadcast have won the support of the board of governors. In October the corporation wrote to Tessa Jowell requesting approval, but the Culture Secretary has yet to respond.

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