There is an interesting tussle on between Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Express Publications (Madurai) Limited's owner Manoj Kumar Sonthalia over gaining 100 per cent control of Kannada Prabha, the fourth largest Kannada newspaper. While Chandrasekhar presently owns 51 per cent and is looking to gain 100 per cent, Sonthalia too is understood to be looking at gaining back control over this asset.
Chandrasekhar, through his investment holding company Jupiter Capital, had in early 2010 acquired 26 per cent in Kannada Prabha and then subsequently took his holding up to 51 per cent last year. Post that transaction, it is understood that negotiations are on to buy out rest of the stake from Sonthalia and likewise. While senior officials of Asianet News Network said that it is a speculation, Sonthalia could not be reached for comments.
This move to gain control over Kannada Prabha comes hardly a few months after Rajeev Chandrasekhar completely exited his general entertainment channels to Star India, which included Vijay TV in Tamil, and two more channels in Malayalam.
It is understood that Chandrasekhar had paid close to Rs 150 crore for a 51 per cent stake in Kannada Prabha and going forward the valuation would be a little higher in the negotiations he is holding to gain 100 per cent stake.
Kannada Prabha, with a circulation of around 190,000 copies, trails the Kannada newspaper market at fourth place with the market leader being Vijaya Karnataka owned by the Bennett, Coleman and Co, which also publishes the English newspaper The Times of India. Praja Vani, is the second in the market and is owned by The Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd, which also publishes the English newspaper Deccan Herald, while Udaya Vani published by Manipal Media Network Ltd, a concern of the Manipal Group, comes third with 310,000 copies. The Kannada newspaper market presently has a total circulation of around 2 million and Vijaya Vani owned by Vijay Sankeshwar, is on an aggressive rollout and is looking to be in the top three within a period of 2-3 years.
In addition to being in the media through this presence, Jupiter Capital has a presence in radio, aviation, hospitality, transportation and infrastructure, and technology solutions. Chandrasekhar, after selling out BPL Telecom to Essar Group for an enterprise valuation of $1.2 billion has been making investments across various segments for about eight years.