Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries is to buy a majority stake in Indian content provider Network 18 Media & Investments for up to INR40 billion ($678 million) – a move that further proves its intent for the 4G market and the threat it poses to the country’s incumbents.
Three months ago, Reliance Jio Infocomm – a unit of Reliance Industries – emerged as one of the big winners in the country’s spectrum auction when it spent $1.7 billion in accruing radio frequencies across the country, including Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Now the new entrant has the content to deliver over those 4G frequencies as it looks to shake up market leaders Bharti Airtel and Vodafone. Reliance plans to launch 4G service later this year.
Reliance has made offers to take control of Network 18 – a local partner of Viacom – including its subsidiary TV18 Broadcast. It first bought into the companies in 2012.
Internationally, other mobile operators are weighing up whether to strike distribution deals for TV or online content or whether, in the age of 4G, content is sufficiently strategic to warrant buying the companies behind it too.
A growing number are opting for the ownership route. Most recently, AT&T announced a proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV, the US satellite TV provider, while Telefonica has had a bid accepted in Spain for a controlling stake in Digital Plus, the country’s leading pay TV operator.
Network was founded by entrepreneur Raghav Bahl and offers business news portal moneycontrol.com as well as others news and e-commerce websites. TV18 operates TV channels including Colors, CNBC-TV18 and CNN-IBN.
Reliance has approved funding of up to $678 million to Independent Media Trust (IMT), the vehicle for the transaction. IMT will acquire a stake of 78 per cent in Network 18 and 9 per cent in TV18 as well as making an offer to minority shareholders in both companies.