November 20, 2014 / 8:28 AM / 3 years ago

RPT-Vodafone says open to more asset sales

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By Danilo Masoni and Leila Abboud

BARCELONA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Vodafone would be open to selling off more non-core assets such as its interests in Australia, Hungary and the Czech Republic if it received the right offer, Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said on Wednesday.

The world’s second-largest mobile operator by user numbers behind China Mobile, could also consider acquiring exclusive media content to attract customers as part of its move to become a full service telecoms provider. However, it is not convinced of the need for such expensive content rights yet.

The different options are being considered as Colao continues his drive to restructure the group from a sprawling pure-play mobile operator to a smaller firm that can also offer fixed line broadband and television services.

“We constantly check with possible parties interested in some of our less core assets,” Colao told the annual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms Conference in Barcelona, in response to a question about the three markets.

“We would consider sales but we are not distressed sellers so therefore we must sell at full value. Otherwise we keep them and manage the cash.”

Colao has transformed the British business in his more than six years at the helm.

Having sold a raft of assets it did not control, including its stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications for $130 billion, Colao has pressed ahead with acquiring fixed-line assets in Europe to enable the company to offer multiple services with a view to increasing customer loyalty and the amount they are willing to pay.

But the move has also sparked questions over whether it could follow the example of BT, the British market leader in fixed line broadband, in buying television programming to attract and retain customers.

BT has spent heavily to secure the exclusive rights to sports programming and the approach has helped the company to grow its consumer revenues. But not all telecom firms have succeeded in owning sports rights, with both Orange and Deutsche Telekom spending billions a few years ago but failing to make it work.

Colao told the conference that while he needed to provide compelling content to its customers, he did not at this stage necessarily need to own it exclusively. However, that could change if his rivals moved that way.

“Personally I have doubts that in the long run this (exclusive content) will really create a lot of value for the platform,” he said. “But if someone starts bidding for content, then you have to bid yourself because otherwise, prisoners dilemma, you remain out and you lose.”

Deutsche Telekom’s chief executive Tim Hoettges echoed that comment, having failed to monetise the rights they had to show Bundesliga soccer games.

“Exclusive content is not a must-have for us,” he said at the conference. (Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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