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After Network 18, Mukesh Ambani wants to buy Financial Times

Last updated on: November 02, 2014 22:08 IST
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RIL has approached Pearson, the company that owns FT, through a representative, according to a report by London’s The Times

Within months of acquiring Raghav Bahl’s Network18 Media Investments and TV18 Broadcast, which control a bevy of television channels, industrialist Mukesh Ambani is believed to have set his eyes on the leading international business daily, Financial Times (FT).

According to a report by The Times, London, the chairman & managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), has through a representative approached Pearson, the company that owns the Financial Times.

An email sent to RIL with queries on the matter remained unanswered till the time of going to press.

If the deal is indeed being considered, this will be the first time that Ambani will be putting his money in a print media venture since he and his younger brother, Anil Ambani, split businesses to form their own groups. Earlier, the Dhirubhai Ambani-controlled undivided Reliance group had owned the Sunday Observer and the Observer of Business & Politics, publication of both of which was discontinued in 2000.

Also in race with Ambani for the business daily, according to The Times report, are British luxury property developer brothers Nick and Christian Candy, known for their landmark projects like London’s One Hyde Park and NoHo Square. Nick Candy, married to Australian singer-actress Holly Wallace, is a regular on the London party circuit. Christian Candy, a business management graduate from London’s Kings College, currently lives in Monte Carlo.

A few years ago, media group Bloomberg was also believed to be one of the suitors for FT, a 120-year-old paper that publishing company Pearson acquired in 1957. According to news reports, FT and its digital assets were valued at £1 billion in 2012.

The speculation of Pearson considering parting with the newspaper has been circulated several times, but its then chief executive, Dame Marjorie Scardino, had in 2012 categorically denied the possibility of selling off FT. The talks of the company putting FT on the block, though, resurfaced as she approached her retirement towards the end of that year.

In November 2012, less than two months before the new CEO John Fallon was to take over, media was abuzz with reports that Pearson was in talks with Bloomberg for a possible sale. Fallon also said in an interview that the management asked if Pearson was the best owner of FT. For the time being, it felt it was, but the situation would have to be reassessed from time to time.

Apart from fully owning FT, the London-based Pearson also has a 50 per cent control of The Economist and a 47 per cent stake in publisher Penguin Random House.

In 2013-14, the FT business generated for the company a revenue of £449 million, eight per cent of its total revenue; and a profit of £55 million. For the half year ended June 30, Pearson’s revenues stood at £2.06 billion, of which £519 million was accounted for by the publishing and newspaper business.

Mukesh Ambani’s acquisition of Network18 and TV18 Broadcast earlier this year has brought to his group a host of leading Indian business channels like CNBC-TV18, CNN-IBN, IBN Lokmat and IBN 7, besides entertainment channels Colors, Comedy Central and MTV to name a few. The group has also acquired a host of digital properties and said its entry into the content business is part of its convergence strategy for launch of 4G data services sometime next year.

FT is not new to India. It had earlier signed a memorandum of understanding with industrialist B K Modi to start an edition in the country. It also held a minority equity stake in Business Standard, which it later sold.

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