Rumoured Birla pullout could spell bad news for Star

MUMBAI: Even while Star News is living from week to week as far as permission for uplinking its content is concerned, come media reports that Kumarmangalam Birla has decided to sell his recently acquired 25 per cent stake in Star India's news venture.

Birla was one of seven stakeholders to take up a stake in Media Content & Communication India Pvt Ltd (MCCIPL), the content company Star floated last month to conform to Indian government guidelines for uplinking of news and current affairs TV channels from India. Star offloaded 74 per cent equity in MCCIPL to resident Indians while retaining 26 per cent with itself.

When contacted, an AV Birla Group spokesperson said the company had no comment to offer on the widespread media coverage that Birla (who took a stake in MCCIPL in his personal capacity) was pulling out from Star News. Company sources however, did say that Birla's exit from Star News was "likely to happen".

Star India head of corporate communications Yash Khanna, meanwhile, said, "As far as we are concerned these are all rumours. We have not received any official intimation on this matter from Mr Birla."

If it finally transpires that Birla does indeed pull out of Star News, then Star would have to find another Indian partner(s) in double quick time because Star's application is still to be disposed of and till that happens it has to reapply for an uplink extension every week.

Star had earlier furnished details sought by the home ministry on its shareholding pattern, but talk of Birla pulling out would have put a skewer in the works.

Of the 74 per cent equity Star offloaded in MCCS in favour of resident Indians, 25 per cent each was picked up by Birla and DSP Merrill Lynch chief Hemendra Kothari. Five per cent each was bought by Hindustan Times' Vir Sanghvi, actor Jeetendra Kapoor and Maya Alagh, while lawyer Ryan Karanjawala picked up another four per cent stake.

The Press Trust of India has meanwhile, reported that the struggling Jain TV, promoted by Dr JK Jain, is interested in equity participation in Star News.

Jain told PTI he was keen to partner with Star through a group company NSTPL, which is into video up-linking and has a running teleport in Greater Noida.

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