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Virgin Media is understood to have formally hoisted a “For Sale” sign over its content business, which includes stakes in the Dave and Living television channels. The cable group has appointed UBS to advise it on a sale of the unit, which could fetch up to £500 million. The decision was underscored yesterday by the departure of the division’s head, Malcolm Wall. Sources said that his exit should be read as a signal of Virgin’s intention to offload its content assets, which include its 50 per cent stake in UKTV – home to a range of digital channels – and IDS, its advertising sales unit. A sale would help to ease the burden of the group’s £6 billion debt pile. However, the process could be complicated by the negotiations over the possible merger of Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide, Virgin Media’s partner in UKTV. BBC Worldwide has a change-of-control clause in the UKTV joint venture that gives the BBC the option to buy the remaining half of UKTV ahead of a third-party buyer. Investors are understood to have told Virgin Media that the group should focus on its core business of providing broadband, telephony and television to consumers, rather than continuing to create programming. The strategy is a U-turn from Virgin’s past aggressive push into content, in which it tried, in 2006, to buy ITV. The group has already abandoned one sale of its content business. Three years ago it began a sale process that drew interest from Viacom, Disney, Sparrowhawk Media and BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster that is 39.1 per cent owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Times.Then the channels were valued at about £800 million. Last month Virgin Media published fourth-quarter figures showing that customers signing up to its services declined by almost 40 per cent. The group reported losses of £50 million and said that it had gained 14,800 new customers in the last three months of 2008, against 24,000 a year earlier. The number of broadband, TV and telephone packages sold by it fell to 185,000, from 272,100 in the final quarter of 2007.