News reports claim SPNI is close to acquiring TEN brand from Zeel

MUMBAI: A new whisper campaign, which if true, could change the lay of the land in India sports broadcasting has been going on over the past few days. It began with the Mirror tabloid from the Times of India group announcing that Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) was close to acquiring the TEN sports brand from the Subhash Chandra owned-Zee Network.

Of course when the Mirror breaks a piece of news related to business, you kind of keep it to yourself and on the shelf until a confirmation comes.

Then this morning even The Economoc Times from the same group came out with a similar report. Again no confirmation from both the parties was forthcoming. SPNI sources told the ET that they do not comment on speculation. But the price mentioned in the news item for the transaction is Rs 2,000 crore.

And when The ET does report something, you at least mention that it has reported it. The newspaper says that post the transaction, sports television in India will become a two horse race between the Twenty First Century Fox owned Star India and the Sony Japan owned SPNI.

Observers, however, maintain that the enterprise value, if it the deal is indeed happening, of Rs 2,000 crore is too low. Reason: back in 2010, Zeel coughed up close to $44.155 million (Rs 270 crore) to acquire a 45 per cent stake in Taj Television Mauritius and Taj Television India. Prior to that, it had handed out $57 million (close to about Rs 360 crore) to snare a 50 per cent stake from the Bukhatir group. That means Zeel paid about Rs 630 crore to buy Ten Sports. Post that it has spent lots of money acquiring cricket rights and other sports rights, over the years.

?Selling Ten Sports at 2x what it paid over nine years ago is not a great deal for Zeel,? says an investment banker close to Zeel. ?I think the Essel group could be looking for at least 3x to 3.5x of the value. It?s not as if it is a troubled group that it has to resort to a fire sale like that. Zeel?s profitability, operating paramters, top line, debt, all are doing well. Hence, a 3x to 3.5x price is a better asking price.?

Be that as it may, will be reaching out to the two networks for a confirmation or denial later today. Until then, watch this space.

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