Zee plans bonds issue to fund DTH, movies

MUMBAI: It has put all its fingers in as many pies and is gunning for more. Obviously, it needs funds to keep the mega plans going. So, Zee Telefilms is planning to raise funds through a bonds issue in the international market to finance its ongoing and upcoming ventures. Zee Telefilms director-finance Hitesh Vakil told that the company has secured RBI clearance to raise up to $ 90 million in funds by way of debt.

The finance is being sought for multiple reasons. The media major is looking to infuse capital into conditional access equipment and its direct to home (DTH) venture that was soft launched by ASC Enterprises Ltd on 2 October 2003. Zee's DTH platform is already operational and is marketing the network's various channels.

RBI clearance for raising up to $ 90 million obtained

Applied towards

Direct to home (DTH) venture

Conditional access equipment

Production of feature films by Zee's Films Division

Paying out high cost debts and the over-riding interest of Zee and its subsidiaries

The funds would also be used for producing feature films made by the Zee Telefilms Ltd Films Division. Zee's film division had started with the block buster Hindi film Gadar - Ek Prem Katha. Films Division CEO Nittin Keni had told in an interview earlier that three movies were in the pipeline - One Dollar Curry- an Indo-French production directed by Vijay Singh, Khosla Ka Ghosla with Anupam Kher and Bhagmati - a live animation film produced by the Zee Institute of creative Arts and directed by Ashok Kaul.

The films will be distributed by the newly formed Zee Rajshri Film Distribution Company. The company is a tie-up between Zee Telefilms Ltd and Rajshri Pictures P Limited to manage distribution of all films produced or co-produced by Zee, Padmalaya and Rajshri. It will also provide a distribution platform for the entire film industry.

Meanwhile Zee Telefilms is continuing on its 'cleanliness drive'. The funds generated by the bonds issue will also be channeled towards paying out high cost debts of Zee and its subsidiaries. This, Vakil said, would help Zee save on high interest costs as well.

Zee is going through an extensive reorganisation. In a meeting held on 15 December 2003, the Zee board had approved the merger of group companies ETC Networks and Econnect India Ltd as part of a larger corporate restructuring plan. Earlier in 2003, Zee had tried to clean up its balance sheets by writing off completely corroded investments in its subsidiaries Econnect and Zee Interactive Ltd.

Recently, the company also went through an extensive portfolio reshuffle at the senior management level.

The ZTL board had also approved the merger of five Mauritius based operating entities viz. Software Suppliers International Ltd (SSIL), Zee Telefilms International Ltd (ZTIL - syndication of ZTL content), Zee MGM (managing movie channel MGM), Expand Fast Holding Ltd, BVI (EFHL - providing satellite services to group broadcasting companies) and Asia TV (Africa) Ltd (marketing and distributing the Zee Network in Africa) with Asia Today Ltd, Mauritius (broadcasting of Zee TV and Zee Cinema).

The fresh funds fit in well within the recent restructuring initiative taken up by Zee. This because once Zee gets rid of the high cost debts and the heavy interests riding on them, it would no doubt result in greater operating and cost efficiencies for Zee.

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