Nielsen said late Monday that John Malone's Liberty Global is in advanced talks to buy British cable giant Virgin Media for $20-24 billion, and an announcement of a deal could come as early as today (Tuesday), according to published reports. Such a deal, it is generally believed, would intensify Virgin Media's competition against News Corp-controlled BSkyB and rekindle Malone's rivalry with News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Currently BSkyB claims to have signed up about 10 million customers, roughly twice the number as Virgin. However, Virgin has been signing up new subscribers at a faster clip than BSkyB, since it is able to bundle TV, video-on-demand, high-speed Internet and phone services in a single package. Analysts, however, are questioning where the money will come from to finance the deal and point out that if the acquisition is financed in large measure by debt, it will put a damper on Virgin's expansion plans. In midmorning trading on the Nasdaq, shares of Liberty Global were down more than 4 percent to $66.50 while shares of Virgin Media were up a whopping 17.07 percent to 45.29, a 52-week high.
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