The Rs 4,500-crore Bennett, Coleman & Co, India's largest print media company, is planning an initial public offer (IPO) of shares. Company insiders said Bennett is likely to be listed within a year, but added that no final decisions have been taken about the timing and size of the issue.
When asked if the company was planning an IPO, Bennett, Coleman's Chief Executive Officer (publishing) Ravi Dhariwal said: "It is still under debate. We have not decided anything."
Responding to queries on the size of the IPO, the percentage that would be offloaded and the time frame, Dhariwal said: "All this is premature."
The closely-held publishing house that prints India's largest selling general English daily The Times of India and the largest selling financial daily The Economic Times will have to offer at least 10 per cent of its equity, the minimum required for an IPO.
There is also a possibility that the company, with a profit of Rs 1,200 crore, could go for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
According to Times Group insiders, internal valuations peg the company at up to $30 billion (Rs 1,20,000 crore), while media analysts said that would be ambitious pricing since revenue is only $1.1 billion, and profit $0.3 billion.
India's newspaper companies have traditionally been closely-held, family-run enterprises, but the trend in recent years has been to seek external capital and to list on the stock market, even as the media has become a growth sector.
The publishers of Hindustan Times, Deccan Chronicle, Dainik Jagran and Sandesh have gone public in the last few years, while Eenadu has recently raised private equity.
The publishers of The Hindu are reported to be negotiating with private equity investors, while Indian Express has talked of wanting to go public. Dainik Bhaskar has also been raising private equity to finance its expansion into Gujarati and English titles, and its promoters have frequently talked of wanting to go public.
Though Bennett's promoters, the Jain family, have apparently maintained in the past that the very profitable publishing house didn't need to raise external capital to fund its expansion, sources in the company said there is a change in thinking. "An IPO has been debated off and on. However, there is a shift in thinking. You look at private treaties. Times is an investment house now," said a source.
The IPO plan is being linked to retention plans for some of the leading editors in the group who are being wooed by rival newspapers with offers of stock options.
However, a source said the company's going public should not be viewed as a mere retention tool for senior employees.
"It will be done to realise the full value of the company. Indian media companies are still very small compared to the media houses abroad," said a Times group source. A listing on the New York Stock Exchange could open up opportunities abroad, too, he added.
Other than half a dozen daily newspapers, Bennett, Coleman runs a magazines business in a joint venture with the BBC, FM radio stations under the Radio Mirchi brand name and two television channels, Times NOW and Zoom.