TV9 scouts for investors, needs Rs 4 bn to expand

MUMBAI: Hyderabad-based Associated Broadcasting Company Ltd (ABCL), which runs a clutch of regional news channels, has mandated Edelweiss Capital to find an investor that also includes complete exit from the business if the valuation is right.

ABCL has a fund requirement of Rs 4 billion to launch news channels in Tamil for the Chennai market, Oriya and Hindi for the National Capital Region (NCR). The plan is to expand its fleet of channels to nine.

“We are looking at an investor to expand our operations. We are prepared to dilute and may even exit if we get the right price,” a source familiar with the development said.

Is a national media house buying out ABCL? “We have given the mandate to Edelweiss Capital. No discussion has happened with the ABCL management and any media house,” the source clarified.

ABCL is in the process of giving 14.5 per cent stake to private equity fund Saif III Mauritius Company, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Softbank Corp. This will follow a merger between iVision Media, the India outfit of Saif, and ABCL.

iVision had lent Rs 500 million as debt to ABCL and this will get converted into equity.

“Saif will hold around 14.5 per cent equity, valuing ABCL at Rs 3.5 billion. We are approaching the high court to approve the merger between iVision Media India and ABCL,” the source said. iVision Media India was set up to start a video news wire agency, but Saif shelved its plans and the company is dormant.

Earlier, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) rejected ABCL’s proposal to give stake to ABCL. “The FIPB has asked us to get the high court approval for a merger between ABCL and iVision. Then they will consider our proposal of converting the debt into equity,” the source said.

In its earlier application, ABCL had sought merger of iVision with itself. It would have issued and allotted compulsory convertible preference shares on the date of completion of the merger.

Post the merger, Srini Raju-promoted iLabs Venture Capital and Saif will hold around 85 per cent in ABCL.

ABCL operates six news channels including TV9 AP (Telugu), TV1, TV9 Karnataka, News9 English (Bangalore), TV9 Gujarat, and TV9 Mumbai (Hindi).

For TV9 Karnataka and News9 English, ABCL has given 10 per cent stake to a local partner while in Gujarat it has parted with 5 per cent. In all other operations, it holds the entire stake, the source said.

ABCL has made an equity investment of Rs 800 million into the business and has taken a debt of Rs 500 million from Saif.

The company has turned around and is operationally making a profit. In FY’11, ABCL clocked a revenue of Rs 1.08 billion. The company has crossed this figure in the first nine months of this fiscal, the source said.

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