The company was formed in March 2006 by the merger of NTL and Telewest, which created NTL:Telewest. In July 2006, the company purchased Virgin Mobile UK, creating the first "quadruple-play" media company in the United Kingdom, offering television, internet, mobile phone and fixed-line telephone services. In November 2006, the company signed a deal with Sir Richard Branson to license the Virgin brand for the combined business. All of the company's consumer services were rebranded under the Virgin Media name in February 2007.
Virgin Media owns and operates its own fibre-optic cable network in the United Kingdom, although currently their optical fibre network does not reach the customer premises, rather they connect to a street cabinet (called Fibre to the Cabinet or FTTC). As of 31 December 2012, it had a total of approximately 4.8 million cable customers, of whom around 3.79 million were supplied with its television services (Virgin TV), around 4.2 million with broadband internet services and around 4.1 million with fixed-line telephony services. At the same date, it had around 3 million mobile telephony customers. Virgin Media competes primarily in broadband with Sky, BT Group and TalkTalk. EE, O2, Vodafone and Three in mobile.
Telewest began in 1984 in Croydon under the name "Croydon Cable", and was acquired by United Cable of Denver in 1988. The company expanded during the 1990s and adopted the Telewest name in 1992 following the merger of its then-parent TCI and US West. It expanded into cable television access in 1999 by purchasing the remaining 50% stake in Cable London, one of the first cable TV companies in the UK, from NTL, adding 400,000 homes in north London. In April 2000 Telewest merged with Flextech, and in November extended its cable network with the acquisition of Eurobell, taking the total number of homes past 4.9 million.
NTL was established by Barclay Knapp and George Blumenthal in 1993 as "International CableTel", taking advantage of the deregulation of the UK cable market. Initially, Cabletel acquired local cable franchises covering Guildford, Northern Ireland and parts of Central Scotland and South Wales. In 1996 CableTel acquired National Transcommunications Limited (NTL), the privatised UK Independent Broadcasting Authority transmission network. In 1998 CableTel adopted "NTL" as its new name.
NTL purchased the ISP Virgin.net in 2004, having originally operated it as a joint venture with Virgin Group since it launched in November 1996. It sold ADSL broadband services through BT landlines to those living outside areas served by NTL's cable network and also offered subscription-based and subscription-free dial-up Internet access. Prior to acquiring Virgin.net, NTL offered a similar package called NTL Freedom.
Telewest and NTL began discussions regarding a merger in late 2003. Thanks to their geographically distinct areas, NTL and Telewest had co-operated previously, as in redirecting potential customers living outside their respective areas. On 3 October 2005, NTL announced a US$16 billion purchase of Telewest, to form one of the largest media companies in the UK. The merger agreement as structured would have required NTL to negotiate with BBC Worldwide (the BBC's commercial arm) due to a change-of-ownership clause written into the agreement for UKTV, a joint venture with Telewest's Flextech content division. To prevent this, Telewest instead acquired NTL.