Television

'NDTV is adequately funded to support its expansion' : Narayan Rao - NDTV Group CEO KVL

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 NDTV Ltd is on an expansion overdrive. In over a year, it has launched a slate of channels and moved beyond news into the lucrative Hindi general entertainment space.

The company has attracted NBC Universal to pump in $150 million for an effective indirect holding of 26 per cent stake in NDTV Networks Plc. Further capital infusion of $120 million has come from a clutch of investors.

NDTV's stake in the joint venture company with Malaysia-based Astro has increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent. The company has also launched NDTV Arabia to tap customised channels in international markets.

Shepherding this growth has been NDTV Group CEO KVL Narayan Rao. In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das, Rao chalks out the company's expansion plans and the need for the group to consolidate its operations.

Excerpts:

Is NDTV floating a joint venture company with The Hindu Group to launch a Chennai city-centric channel?

We are setting up a joint venture company with The Hindu Group where we will hold 51 per cent. The Hindu Group will have the balance 49 per cent and the JV will launch MetroNation Chennai in the next 3-4 months. Hindu is a reputed brand at the regional and national level. So we decided to have a content and commercial relationship. It was a natural gravitation towards each other.

Will we see NDTV get into more such deals with print owners to tap regional markets?

Regional news is not something on our radar. Our area of expertise is in English and Hindi language news. Our strategy is to do city-centric channels.

Are the MetroNation channels being transferred to a subsidiary company called NDTV News Ltd?

The intent is there to have MetroNation as a subsidiarised company. Since it has separate business requirements, we have got a chief executive officer for it. A distinct entity will bring in greater efficiencies.

NDTV ended last fiscal with a consolidated loss of Rs 1.86 billion. When do we see a turnaround?

We are in the stage of incubating various businesses. We have seen exponential growth over the last one year and have expanded into the non-news segment as well.

We forayed into the Hindi general entertainment space with NDTV Imagine in January this year and have just launched Imagine Showbiz. We launched MetroNation in Delhi last year and it is doing well in terms of audience and reach. Now our focus will be to monetise this.

We have already obtained licence for the World Cinema channel and will be launching it in the next couple of months. MetroNation in Mumbai will probably come up in the next fiscal. We have our plate full.

Is NDTV spreading itself too thin?

There are opportunities and media companies are exploiting this. There is, however, an expectation from the marketplace to grow the topline which is putting unnecessary pressure on several media firms. Nobody is given a chance to consolidate. We need to structure that expansion and build the management bandwidth.

As for NDTV, we are adequately funded to support our expansion drives. We have have built the quality and ability to scale up. And in the news business, credibility is the only way to move forward.

'Regional news is not something on our radar. Our area of expertise is in English and Hindi language news. Our strategy is to do city-centric channels'

Will NDTV Networks Plc. raise money by listing on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange?

NDTV Networks has raised $120 million from a clutch of investors including $20 million from Velocity Interactive Group (earlier called ComVentures). This is the holding company for the verticals including NDTV Imagine Ltd, NDTV Lifestyle, NDTV Convergence, Labs and NGEN Media Services (50 per cent). We have decided that it is better to build the businesses rather than go for an initial listing.

NBC Universal has the option to increase its stake from 26 per cent to 50 per cent. Will NDTV part with majority in its non-news company?

NBC Universal has put in $150 million to subscribe to shares of our Dutch subsidiary company which will give it an effective indirect holding of 26 per cent in NDTV Networks. We will never part with control. The other investors are in NDTV Networks.

Colors has made a strong debut. Will this affect the break even period of NDTV Imagine which reportedly has a funding support of $106 million?

NDTV Imagine is well on track and is growing steadily. The funding is adequate to take it to EBITDA positive stage. I can't talk about other GECs.

While the trend in an entertainment bouquet is to have a GEC and a Hindi movie channel, NDTV Imagine Ltd has launched a niche channel in Showbiz through a joint venture partner. What is the holding structure and potential for this channel?

NDTV Imagine Ltd will hold 51 per cent in the JV and the balance 49 per cent will be with Cinestar. It is a growing segment and has tremendous potential.

The launch of a Hindi movie channel is also in the pipeline. We are already in the process of acquiring movies. We are also going to be present in film production.

NDTV's consolidated revenue was at Rs 3.66 billion for FY'08. What contributed to this 31 per cent jump in turnover over the year-ago period?

NDTV 24X7 and NDTV Profit have seen strong growth. NDTV India's revenues, however, are not growing at the same pace because of the editorial positioning it has opted to take.

Isn't there a temptation to take NDTV India the tabloid route as many Hindi channels have successfully done to grow audiences?

Going the tabloid route is not our strength. That is not our USP. NDTV India is holding on to revenue because of quality. We believe in the long run, good news will prevail and more audiences will come in.

How is the joint venture with Malaysia-based Astro faring?

The venture has already launched channels in Indonesia and Malaysia. We were given 20 per cent stake against a fee that we were to charge Astro for our services. Our stake in the joint venture is going up to 30 per cent.

NDTV Emerging Markets is a subsidiary company which launched NDTV Arabia. Are we going to see more such customised channels being launched in other countries through this company?

NDTV Arabia will now break into local news bands. It is our first venture into the Middle East and Africa as a customised channel. Yes, NDTV Emerging Markets will launch more such channels in other international markets to provide local news content. It is part of our international expansion plan to reach out to new target audiences.
NBC Universal's investment of $150 million for 26 per cent stake in NDTV's Dutch subsidiary company puts the valuation at Rs 24.2 billion. The market cap of NDTV Ltd, which includes the news channels as well, was marginally higher at Rs 24.5 bn (July-end). Since the true value is not captured, is this the reason why NDTV Ltd is planning to de-merge the company into "news related businesses" and "non news businesses?"

The aim is to unlock shareholder value and to promote the focused growth of our various businesses. Consultants are working on this and we will evaluate various options after receiving their feedback.

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