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R-Cap in talks to buy majority stake in Bloomberg UTV

Varada Bhat & Niladri Bhattacharya  |  Mumbai 

Reliance Capital (R-Cap) is in talks with UTV founder-promoter Ronnie Screwvala to scale up its stake in UTV Ltd much beyond the 18 per cent it holds at present. UTV Ltd runs English business channel Bloomberg TV.

R-Cap, part of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG), may get a controlling stake in the venture if the negotiations fructify. According to three independent sources familiar with the developments, the company is also open to buying out the entire 66 per cent stake held by Screwvala. “Negotiations are on,” the sources said.

Screwvala holds 66 per cent stake in his personal capacity in the channel broadcast by UTV News, while 16 per cent is held by Bloomberg LP.

When contacted, a Bloomberg UTV spokesperson, however, said, “There is no stake sale contemplated at all, nor any change in shareholding. The name change to remove UTV is triggered by the proposed Disney and UTV acquisition, as the brand UTV would be part of The Walt Disney Co India.”

Reliance Capital declined to comment. The Reliance Group, owned by Anil Ambani, is already in the broadcasting space with Big CBS, under which it runs three English channels. Reliance Capital also has minority investments in TV Today and some other channels, which it has always claimed are just financial investments.

The group has also tied up with the Europe-based RTL group for theme-based channels and runs Big Magic, a Hindi entertainment channel. Those in the know say as part of the exercise, the channel will be rebranded “Bloomberg India” and will also have a new logo. The announcements are expected in January. This will be the second rebranding for the channel launched by Screwvala in April 2008. In October 2009, the channel was rebranded Bloomberg UTV after it entered a strategic partnership with Bloomberg Television.

The move comes close on the heels of The Walt Disney Co buying out UTV Software for more than Rs 2,000 crore. The channel competes with business channels such as CNBC-TV18, NDTV Profit and ET Now, the English business news channel by Bennett, Coleman and Co Ltd.

According to data released by TAM Media Research, Bloomberg currently has 8.2 per cent share of the English business news audience. It trails CNBC-TV18, the leader with 49.8 per cent share of the audience, followed by ET Now with 26.7 per cent and NDTV Profit with 15.3 per cent.

As on September 30, 2011, R-Cap, the financial services arm of ADAG, had 3.03 per cent stake in TV Today Network Ltd, the broadcaster of news channels Headlines Today and Aaj Tak.

On Thursday, shares of Reliance Capital closed at Rs 262.70, down 3.21 per cent, on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Screwvala is known to start businesses, nurture them and sell at the right time. For instance, he launched a new channel for children, Hungama TV, in a crowded market with more than five channels competing for eyeballs. However, in 2006, a mere two years after its launch, he sold Hungama TV to the US-based The Walt Disney Co for Rs 142.7 crore.

Two years later, in 2008, Disney came courting again and acquired 15 per cent stake in UTV Global Broadcasting for Rs 118.98 crore. That was followed by another acquisition -- 32.1 per cent in parent UTV Software Communications Ltd for Rs 805.05 crore, at that time one of the largest foreign direct investments in the media and entertainment sector.

It raised its stake in the company to 50.44 per cent by buying 20 per cent UTV shares from the open market. And recently, Disney bought the remaining stake in the company in a deal valued at Rs 2,014 crore. Last week, the government approved Disney's proposal to fully acquire the media firm.

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First Published: Fri, December 16 2011. 01:05 IST