Bharti Airtel is all set to buy the promoter’s stake in Dish TV, Business Standard reported, quoting unnamed sources.
The report seems to confirm what has only been informally known in the circles.
The report said that Bharti Airtel, which operates rival DTH platform Airtel Digital, is likely to offer Rs 45-50 per share to buy the promoter stake.
At present, shares of Dish TV are trading at Rs 32.60 on the National Stock Exchange.
The shares are up 4%, or Rs 1.25, in morning trade on the back of the report. They had been trading in the Rs 38-40 range in March-April period, but witnessed a strong correction in the second half of May and June.
The promoters, Jawahar Goel and family, has been trying to raise cash to pay off debts incurred in their infrastructure/construction business for some time.
It has been known for some time that Bharti Airtel has been in talks with the promoters of Dish TV for a buyout.
There have also been major clues that a synergy is being worked out between the telecom group and Dish TV, which is a group concern of Zee Entertainment, the biggest Indian-owned entertainment company.
For example, many Zee Group TV channels have been added to Airtel’s DTH platform in the past few days, including channels that were hitherto exclusive to Dish TV, such as Zee Theater.
Moreover, Zee and Airtel recently agreed to make content from Zee5 — the group’s mobile app — available on Airtel’s content apps as well.
There have also been reports on the ground by some DTH distributors that a deal is close at hand.
SECOND BIG DEAL
This would be the second big deal involving Dish TV within a space of about a year.
A year ago, Dish TV purchased Videocon D2h, becoming the biggest paid DTH platform in the country by number of subscribers.
However, the deal came at a particularly bad time for the group, which has exposure to sectors like real estate and construction, in addition to its media and entertainment business.
In September 2018, the infrastructure financing group IL&FS got into rough weather, with some of its units unable to make payments to their lenders. This sent shock waves through the finance industry, and it became difficult for property companies to secure funds to keep their projects, and their loans, rolling.
The Zee Esssel Group had borrowed around Rs 13,500 cr to fund their infrastructure businesses, and the crunch in the infrastructure space hurt their ability to roll over or service the same.
The sale of the promoter’s stake in Dish TV would fetch the promoters about Rs 4,800 to 5,000 cr, the newspaper report said.
Bharti Airtel would also need to make an open offer to investors if it acquires the promoter’s shares in the company.
Besides Dish TV, the group is also trying to sell a substantial stake in crown jewel Zee Entertainment.
Zee Group has said that they are looking to sell a substantial stake in Zee Entertainment to an international group with experience in digital media.
It remains to be seen how Bharti Airtel plans to integrate Dish TV with its own business.
Dish TV has never been a cash cow for the Zee group, and in recent years, the company has found it harder and harder to stay in the black due to the increasing popularity of DD Free Dish, a free DTH service that is extremely popular in Dish TV’s key rural, Hindi-speaking markets.
Hurt by continuing turmoil in the rural Hindi market, Dish TV posted a loss of Rs 1,163 cr for the year ended March 2019. It had revenue of Rs 6,166 cr.
One of the key challenges facing all DTH companies, including Dish TV and Airtel Digital, is the emergence of on-demand video, powered by the rapid expansion of high-speed internet services in India.
Apps like Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Jio Cinema, ALTBalaji and so on have signed on millions of subscribers in the country.
The rising consumption of content via mobile phone apps has hurt the time spent on TV, and thwarted attempts by players like Dish TV to nudge their users to pay more for their TV services every month.
Things are expected to get worse with the launch of Jio GigaFiber — an integrated TV-cum-broadband service from Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator by traffic.
Jio, which has around 280 million active 4G subscribers, is likely to have a medium-term (4-5 year) target of reaching around 50 million subscribers — mostly in the cities, towns and urban areas of India. This compares to about 71 million paying DTH subscribers in India at present.
Almost everyone who gets a Jio GigaFiber connection will cut off their DTH and cable services, as GigaFiber comes with a more advanced TV viewing experience, including the ability to rewind programs and catch up on past episodes.
For Airtel, GigaFiber will pose a dual-challenge. Not only will it lead to increased attrition in its DTH business, but it will also hurt its wired broadband service.
Airtel’s home broadband service currently has around 2.3 million customers, while its DTH service has around 15 million subscribers.
Unfortunately for the company, a large portion of these subscribers — particularly the home broadband subscribers — will fall within the top 100 or so cities of India that come within the cross hairs of Reliance GigaFiber in its initial roll-out.
To protect its customers, Airtel is currently working on a plan to upgrade its DTH set-top-boxes into Android-based smart boxes that will offer features similar to what Jio GigaFiber has to offer.
However, to function fully, these boxes have to be connected to fast internet connections — either from Airtel or from any of the other providers.
On the home broadband front, Airtel is also fast upgrading its users to an all-fiber network from the traditional copper line to reduce costs and remain competitive with GigaFiber.
A merger with Dish TV will bring an estimated 30 million new DTH subscribers to its fold, and give it heft in its battle with Jio.
However, it remains to be seen how many of Dish TV’s subscribers are in urban areas where fast internet services are also available.
Even in rural areas, the merger can also help reduce the overall cost of operations for the DTH player, helping the combined entity eek out a profit even at the 100-rupee-per-month average subscriber revenue levels that the industry is grappling with at present.
“Given that there is a very large cable industry, which is still not digitized and still got quite fragmented, we do think that the DTH business has a big opportunity to continue to grow its customer base and that is really where we are focused on,” Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal had said a month ago.