Liberty actively exploring India entry options

MUMBAI: If everything falls in place, India could well be the next operational port of call in Asia after Japan for the John Malone-controlled Liberty Media.

Says Shane O'Neill, SVP, chief strategy officer and board member, Liberty Global, "Over the last six years, we haven't looked too closely at this market. But now I want to get a more informed view." When queried over the credible buzz that had surfaced at one time that Liberty might buy in to the Hinduja Group's InCableNet, but that the deal fell through over valuations, O'Neill dismissed it as market speculation.

Asked as to what Liberty's entry route into the Indian market would be, O'Neill said those calls had still to be taken but it was "highly unlikely we would enter without (an Indian) partner".

"Currently India is the best opportunity in Asia, even more than China. We have the appetite to invest in these markets and are not worried about the complexities that exist," O'Neill avers.
There are four key issues that Liberty has identified as being critical to its India rollout plans:

1. Figure out a partnership strategy;

2. Garner a complete understanding of the regulatory environment in the country.

3. Understand the government's attitude to foreign investment in the sector;

4. Come up to speed on the ground situation.

O'Neill also raised the point about a the need for a level playing field as regards investment opportunities. The same set of rules should apply to telcos / cable and satellite companies, he said.

As regards the cable scenario, his view is that FDI and channel pricing are the two issues that really need to be looked into. On pricing, O'Neill opines that government intervention should only be as regards the basic service; for everything else it should be left to the market.

Asked about the impact of CAS, he said that the rollout of addressability would certainly incentivise the likes of Liberty to enter India.

O'Neill did stress however, that Liberty was not going to rush into anything but would not be conservative in its thinking either. According to him, the media major's mantra was "Informed aggression, not instinctual aggression."

Subhash Chandra has stated that WWIL (erstwhile SitiCable) will be pumping in $ 200 million over the next two years as part of an aggressive growth strategy that is underpinned by the switchover to digital delivery. Could Liberty facilitate that effort? Time should tell.

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