'We are entering into an era where capital will be scarce' : Citi Venture Capital International managing director India region head PR Srinivasan

There may be pressure on Citigroup Inc. to remove the flab with the US government agreeing to infuse $20 billion of capital as part of a rescue package, but Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) is drawing up plans to make acquisitions at attractive valuations. Out of the $4.5 billion fund, it is yet to invest $3 billion, almost a third of which will pour into the Indian market.


Though CVCI has made only one media investment in You Telecom, a broadband and cable TV company, it is also eyeing the direct-to home (DTH) and Hindi entertainment broadcasting space.


In an interview with Sibabrata Das, Citi Venture Capital International managing director India region head PR Srinivasan talks about the opportunities of investing in various sectors including media at a time when capital is going to be scarce.



Being in the midst of an unprecedented global economic turmoil, how comfortable is Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) in its funding structure to grab buying opportunities in Indian media companies?

We have a $4.5 billion fund, out of which $3 billion is yet to be invested. We have already invested $500 million in India. We are likely to pump in a further $750 million-$1 billion in this market while the balance will be put in China, Eastern Europe, etc. You Telecom has been our only investment in the media and entertainment sector. But as asset prices come down, we are open to picking up stakes in other verticals within the media sector.

Have you initiated talks with any of the media companies?

We see a good investment opportunity in DTH and are talking to one player. We may also start looking at TV channels in the Hindi general entertainment space, if they come at attractive valuations and are managed well. Even if we are headed for a slowdown, the truth is that people will still want entertainment. Since we have already acquired You Telecom, we are not looking at parallel investments in the cable TV sector. We would expand and make further acquisitions through You Telecom.

Since CVCI has a running investment in a broadband and cable TV company through You Telecom, why is it that you are eyeing a competing distribution platform like DTH?

There is space for all three forms of carriage - DTH, cable TV and IPTV. No form of distribution is superior or dominates over the other. In the US, both cable and DTH enjoy substantial market shares. The only country which has a single dominant platform is UK where DTH has a content advantage in form of exclusive sports telecast rights. India, however, has a content-neutral policy. The regulatory framework is also in favour of independent distributors and is neutral to broadcasters. The DTH sector also has a 20 per cent equity cap for broadcasting companies.


The main cost in DTH is advertising. Unlike cable which has a capex requirement in the distribution architecture, DTH doesn't have a wired cost. If you get scale in DTH, you will become profitable. The expense mix will change with volumes. But in India with so many players getting into the business, not all will get the scale.

When CVCI bought out British Gas's broadband business, was the investment attractive because the infrastructure of You Telecom could be used for cable TV service?

You Telecom had world class network built to FCC standards. We were clear that we would buy this asset and wait for both competition and regulation to fall in place so that this can be developed into a last mile home entertainment network. When the government came out with Cas and DTH became active, digitalisation got a push. For the cable TV business to grow, there was need for competition, the right market, and the right regulation. We are in that environment today. India is in the early stages of having second TV - so we could have a situation where we have both cable and DTH.

Were you not in discomfort because the cable TV sector has too many players and there is very little of last mile ownership with the multi-system operators (MSOs)?

In terms of reaching homes, cable with 80 million does much better than telecom. The sector needs to get more organised; it is only a matter of time before this happens. The cable industry in India is a marathon and not a sprint. Though there is a capex requirement and last mile is still not under control of the MSOs, the mix looks good once you have a base of one million digital subscribers.

'For the cable TV biz to grow, there was need for competition, the right market, and the right regulation. India is in the early stages of having second TV - so we could have a situation where we have both cable and DTH'

Why did You Telecom take so long in moving into cable TV service?

Our efforts to do the video business evolved with the DTH industry. We acquired a 50 per cent stake in Bangalore-based Digital Infotainment, a small-sized cable network, to make our foray into the cable TV business. We also took a majority in Scod18 Networking, an association of cable TV distributors in Mumbai. We have cable TV operations in Mumbai, Bangalore, Vizag and Dharwad in Maharashtra.

In You Telecom, CVCI has 85 per cent stake. How did you restructure the equity structure as the government allows only 49 per cent FDI (foreign direct investment) in a cable TV company?

We floated Digital Outsourcing, the company that would handle cable TV business. Tulsi R Tanti and his family members, promoters of Suzlon Energy Ltd, have acquired 49 per cent stake in this company. You Telecom India owns 36 per cent while the rest is held by high net worth Indian individuals.

How much is You Telecom investing to expand its business?

You Telecom plans to pump in Rs 4 billion over the next two years to expand its cable TV and broadband business. If we decide to go for Headend-In-The-Sky (HITS), we will require another Rs 1.5 billion. We have 1.3 million cable TV subscribers and expect this to go up to three million. We have seeded 60,000 digital set-top boxes and expect to touch one million in the next 18 months. The cable business will grow through setting up own headends, acquiring networks and forming joint venture partners in different geographies. There is a lot of entrepreneurial talent in the cable community and we want to tap into that.

Do you have an aggressive plan in acquiring last mile operators?

The challenge in cable is to get direct points. We bought 5000-7000 points. Our strategy is to own last mile, but all in good time. Our plan is to own a headend and then acquire the last mile. The valuations for last mile were inflated because people thought there was abundant capital available.

Have the valuations dropped drastically?

For the last three years, there has been abundant capital and liquidity. Though we purchased at 18-24 months revenue, there were MSOs who bought at 30-40 months turnover. That kind of money is not available; we will not get financing for making purchases like that any more.


Most of the mid caps have fallen over 80 per cent. The last mile business has to follow along those lines. People are not going to bid prices up. It is only a matter of time before people accept the new world realities. We are entering into an era where capital will be scarce. Business plans will have to evolve accordingly.

Do you see yourself in an advantageous position because you are sitting on cash at a time when the credit markets are frozen and capital is hard to get?

Money is not going to be available on tap. This will impact the way the new financial system is going to be reshaped. Every sector will feel the jolt. As new broadcasters need to raise capital, MSOs who have planned carriage revenues over the next 2-3 years to support their business models will find the going very hard. Many of them will have to redraw their plans.


It is a good time to have cash. For those who are investing now, the returns will be higher than the previous years.

Latest Reads
TV is story-teller's new novel; audience is Bharat, not India: Star's Banerjee

MUMBAI: Since five to six years, television has become the talking point. Th series such as 'Breaking Bad' to Transparent to Narcos to 'Game of Thrones' to 24, and now POW (Prisoners of Wars) has changed the experience of television viewing.

Television TV Channels GECs
Star World to air 1-5 of 'Homeland'

Star World and Star World HD is all geared up to air the pulse-pounding action series 'Homeland.' The show tackles geopolitical moral conundrums of our current world. It has recently unveiled the teaser for the upcoming season 6 shows how Carrie Mathison will circumvent around another international...

Television TV Channels English Entertainment
Share all World Cup, T-20 feeds with Prasar Bharati, rights holder told

The telecast of all official one-day and Twenty-20 matches played by the Indian Men’s Cricket Team will henceforth have to be shared by the rights holder with the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007.

Television TV Channels Terrestrial
Saregama returns to film music acquisition with Pen pact

Saregama India has inked a two-movie deal with Pen Movies. With this agreement, Saregama has acquired the music rights of upcoming Bollywood releases of Pen which includes Kahaani 2 -- Durga Rani Singh, featuring Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal.Kahaani 2 is slated for a release on 2 December.

Television TV Channels Music and Youth
Q2-17: Zeel numbers, PAT up on higher Ad and Subscription revenue

The Subhash Chandra led content and broadcast player Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (Zeel) reported a 23 per cent hike in consolidated revenue for the quarter ended 30 September 2016 (Q2-17, current quarter) as compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

Television TV Channels GECs
Best Deal TV appoints Hari Trivedi as COO

MUMBAI: Best Deal TV has appointed Hari Trivedi as the chief operating officer with immediate effect. Based in Mumbai, Trivedi will be responsible for overall sales and marketing. He would also be initializing lowest price offers and deals on Best Deal TV.

Television TV Channels People
Disney announces successor of MD Siddharth Roy-Kapur

MUMBAI: Walt Disney International has announced the successor to its former managing director Siddharth Roy-Kapur. As a second stint with the organization, Mahesh Samat has made a comeback and will lead The Walt Disney Company India as the managing director. He will pursue his new responsibility...

Television TV Channels People
Life is more imaginative than fiction in a story like POW, says writer-director Gideon Raff

MUMBAI: Sometimes, coming back home after 17 years is not always a happy ending. "Prisoners of War" is the story of three Israeli soldiers, who were held captive for that many years following their kidnapping while on a secret mission with their unit.

Television TV Shows Thriller
IPL media rights bidding postponed sine die

MUMBAI: The BCCI has made it clear that the media rights auction cannot take place till the time it gets a concrete go-ahead and a formal approval from the Justice RM Lodha committee. Till the evening of 24 October (Monday), BCCI did not receive the okay from the committee which said, "it is in...

Television TV Channels Sports

Latest News

Load More

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories