Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the chemicals-to-telecom-to-media behemoth owned by Mukesh Ambani, has announced that the company is consolidating all its media and distribution businesses under a single brand — Network18. This means that companies TV18 Broadcast, Hathway Cable & Datacom, and Den Networks will merge into Network18 Media & Investments.
It seems that aim of this exercise is to simplify the corporate structure of the group by reducing the number of listed entities. As the merger gets completed, Network18 Media & Investments will become a company with a revenue of over ₹8,000 crore, making it the second largest media conglomerate in India. Star India, which is owned by Disney, is the leading media company in the market with a revenue to the north of ₹12,300 crore.
Restructuring aim aside, this grouping of all allied businesses will also result in giving Network18 significant clout over all facets of a media business — content, marketing and distribution. The new company will also house the TV18 brand of television channels, which also includes reputed business channels such as CNBC-TV18 (in partnership with NBC, US) among others. Reliance already owns Jio, which further has a slew of content divisions and is planning to come up with even more verticals.
The move will result in Reliance’s stake in Network18 reducing to 64 percent from 75 percent. It is revealed that the broadcasting business would be housed in Network18 while the cable and distribution business would be split into two separate wholly owned subsidiaries of Network18.
As for the share-swap ratio, the TV18 shareholders would get 92 shares of Network18 for every 100 shares currently held by them. Similarly, Hathway and DEN shareholders would get 78 shares and 191 shares of Network18 respectively for every 100 shares.
The company has said that the merger of its media and distribution businesses into Network18 would create an ecosystem for growth opportunities in digital, broadcast media, cable, and broadband. It also claims that Network18 would be net-debt free, providing a base for growth and better shareholder returns.
Business aspects aside, the move would also give Ambani, a massive vehicle to significantly influence public opinion. Corporates owning influential media companies has been a topic of hot debate for quite sometime. The trend originated in the US with several experts arguing that the independence of a media company gets highly shadowed when it comes under a corporate umbrella.
India already has a serious issue with the reputation of its mainstream media companies, with viewers regularly discarding them as unauthentic and not trustworthy. In that sense, it will be interesting to see how Network18 pans out as a media company going forward, and how much of the “media” part of its continues to remain independently functional.