Ambani in talks to sell news assets to Times Group

Ambani in talks to sell news assets to Times Group

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani. (PTI photo)

By Baiju Kalesh, Anto Antony and P R Sanjai

Billionaire Mukesh 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, people familiar with the matter said.

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., the people said, asking not to be named as the discussions are private. Ambani is considering various options, ranging from an outright exit to a stake sale, one of the people said.

Talks are at an early stage and may not result in a deal, the people said, adding more suitors may emerge. A representative for Bennett Coleman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comments, while a spokesman for Reliance Industries Ltd. said the parent of Network18 evaluates opportunities on an ongoing basis and declined to comment further.

The tycoon’s plan to dispose of his news assets comes as he pursues talks to sell a stake in Network18’s entertainment division that encompasses various movie, music and comedy channels to Sony Corp. Bloomberg News reported last week that the Japanese giant is currently examining the books of the Indian media company and is considering several potential deal structures. Network18 reported a group loss of 1.78 billion rupees ($25 million) in the year ended March, while its net debt stood at 28 billion rupees, according to the company.

Shares of Network18 jumped as much as 10% on Thursday in Mumbai and were headed for their highest level in almost six months.

Ambani’s oil-to-petrochemicals conglomerate is in the midst of streamlining its operations and pivoting more toward relatively new ventures such as retail and technology for revenue. Last month, Reliance Industries unveiled a digital-services holding company that would eventually provide services from e-commerce to entertainment on a telecommunications network built over the last few years with about $50 billion in investment.

Network18, acquired by Reliance Industries in 2014, owns and operates 56 local channels spanning news and entertainment. News properties include MoneyControl, News18,, CricketNext and Firstpost. Shares of its subsidiary TV18 Broadcast Ltd., which houses news channels, soared as much as 6.7% in Mumbai.

Reliance Industries shares reached a record high on Thursday, giving the firm a market value of about $140 billion.

Unlisted Bennett Coleman, also known as the Times Group, owns television channels, including Times Now and ET Now. Besides the Times of India, it also publishes the Economic Times, a pink financial daily.

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