Television

NDTV open to strategic investor in NDTV Profit

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MUMBAI: NDTV is open to unloading stake in its business news channel NDTV Profit to a strategic investor as it plans to streamline its financial resources and expand in a tough economic environment.

No progress, however, has been made so far after exploratory talks halted with an overseas investor months back.

The company is not in dialogue with Indian news outfits such as Zee News Ltd and TV Today Network to get rid of NDTV Profit.

"We are not going to entirely sell NDTV Profit. We are looking at a minority strategic investor if it comes at the right value. We are not in talks with Zee or TV Today," an official in NDTV said.

Any dilution of stake will involve hiving off of NDTV Profit from NDTV Ltd, the company that houses NDTV 24x7, NDTV India and NDTV India.

"We haven't started that process as it is needed only after we have finalised our partner. We have not reached that stage yet," said the official. 

NDTV has not given the mandate to anybody to find an investor. Ernst & Young was consulted to recommend restructuring of operations and cost-cutting proposals.

"We have already carried out some of these recommendations," the official said.

NDTV has carried out several course-correction measures including getting out of loss-making projects. Along with joint venture partner Kasturi and Sons Limited (the publishers of Hindu newspaper), it recently exited from the loss-making city-centric English language channel in Chennai. Earlier, NDTV had sold its stake in NDTV Imagine, the Hindi entertainment business, to Turner International.

NDTV had, in fact, cleaned up its huge pile of debt through these sale transactions. The company's borrowings stood at Rs 2.05 billion, according to data till 31 March 2012.

"Digitisation will drastically reduce our distribution costs. Our financials will look much more healthier," the official said.

For the fiscal ended March 2012, NDTV narrowed its net loss to Rs 191.5 million from Rs 986.3 million a year earlier. In the first quarter of 2011-12, it reported net loss of Rs 227.1 million against a net profit of Rs 98.1 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Zee has clarified that it is not in talks with NDTV to buy out NDTV Profit. "Some recent press reports have reported that Zee is one of the front-runners to buy NDTV Profit. We would like to categorically deny this news which is false and state that there are no such discussions taking place between Zee and NDTV Profit," said Essel Group head - group finance and strategy Himanshu Mody.

Zee News Ltd, which runs a clutch of Hindi and regional-language channels, is planning to launch an English news channel.

Media analysts feel the acquisition of NDTV Profit may not be in the best interests of TV Today. "The company is too heavily dependent on its flagship Hindi general news channel Aaj Tak. It has to focus on turning around its other loss-making channels. TV Today has also made an investment of Rs 455 million in the loss-making Mail Today and its cash reserves are depleted. The investment of Aditya Birla Group in the parent company, Living Media India, will give TV Today an indirect boost to expand on its strong TV news franchise," an analyst at a broking firm said.

For the yet ended 31 March 2012, TV Today reported a net profit of Rs 105.24 million, down from Rs 124.24 million a year earlier, while in the first quarter of 2012-13, its net profit was sharply lower at Rs 10.08 million against Rs 166.44 million a year ago.

For NDTV, finding a strategic investor for just the business news channel will be a tough task. "If the news business is sold combined, it will be very attractive. But the question is whether the promoters will want that," a media analyst said.

NDTV's lifestyle business is already operationally profitable. NDTV Lifestyle Holdings, in which Astro is an equity partner, runs a successful channel, NDTV Good Times.

"Once digitisation picks up, we will be launching niche channels under the lifestyle genre. It is a growing genre and we are doing well in that space," said the official.

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