Billionaire Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries on Thursday denied reports of selling its news media business to Times Group. Bloomberg early on Thursday reported that Ambani “is in talks to sell his news media assets to India’s Times Group, as Asia’s richest man plans to unload a business that’s been losing money”.
“Reliance Industries firmly denies (the) story. The story is baseless and false,” a company spokesperson said. The report had quoted people familiar with the matter to say that Bennett Coleman & Co, the publisher of the Times of India, is looking to hire advisers for due diligence on the news properties of Ambani’s Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.
Bennett Coleman’s spokesperson couldn’t be immediately reached for comments. Reliance had in 2014 bought Network18, which owns and operates 56 local channels spanning news and entertainment, for up to Rs 4,000 crore.
Network18 owns TV channels (including CNBCTV18, CNN-IBN, CNN Awaz), websites (firstpost.com, moneycontrol.com), magazines (including the license for Forbes India), entertainment channel (Colors and MTV) among other businesses.
Unlisted Bennett Coleman, also known as the Times Group, already has two news channels — Times Now (for general news) and ET Now (the business news channel) which compete with Network18’s general news channel News18 and business news channel CNBCTV18.
TV18 Broadcast Ltd – the BSE-listed firm that houses the news channels – has a market cap of about Rs 4,100 crore. Promoters hold 60.40 per cent interest in the company which had in the July-September quarter reported a net loss of Rs 1.03 crore. It had a profit of Rs 8.5 crore in 2018-19 fiscal.
Last month, Reliance in its consolidated earnings statement for the July-September quarter reported a Rs 47 crore pre-tax profit from its media business on a revenue of Rs 1,174 crore.
“Robust 43 per cent growth in subscription income post-implementation of new tariff order (NTO) was offset by a weak advertising environment,” it had said. “News portfolio solidified its leadership with a 10.9 per cent viewership share. Broad-based cost optimizations led to Entertainment Business-as-usual (BAU) margins rising to 12.9 per cent, vs 9.9 per cent in 2Q FY19.”