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Big business houses eye stake in Living Media

April 10, 2012 10:45 IST

The India Today groupBig business is eyeing the media space once again.

Just four months after Reliance Industries invested in the Network 18 group in a multi-layered deal, leading business houses, including the Aditya Birla Group, are looking at acquiring 26 per cent stake in the Aroon Purie-controlled Living Media India.

The market seems to have got wind of the deal, as the TV Today stock went up 15.23 per cent to Rs 68.10 on the Bombay Stock Exchange on a day the benchmark index, Sensex, fell 1.51 per cent, or 263.88 points.

Living Media acts as a holding company and owns 57.1 per cent in TV Today Network, the listed company that owns the group's broadcasting assets, besides publishing a host of magazines that include the flagship India Today.

Ambit Capital is understood to be looking for a strategic partner for Living Media.

The other names doing the rounds for picking a stake in Living Media are Mahindra & Mahindra and the Kolkata-based RP-Sanjiv Goenka group.

Sources in the know say the Aditya Birla Group seems to be the front runner for the deal. However, when contacted, the group's official spokesperson said, "In line with our policy, we do not comment on market reports."

An M&M spokesperson said, "As a company policy, we don't comment on speculative stories."

Emailed questionnaires to Aroon Purie and Living Media's CEO Ashish Bagga did not elicit any reply.

Sanjiv Goenka was unavailable for comments. Ashok Wadhwa Group CEO, Ambit Capital, was also unavailable as he said he was busy in a meeting.

Living Media straddles print media, television and the radio business apart from running the country's most modern printing press, Thomson Press, in the outskirts of Delhi.

Purie's publishing empire, which is controlled through Living Media, also includes Business Today and a clutch of licensed magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Men's Health, Harper's Bazaar, Travel Plus and Harvard Business Review,

among others.

In a recent interview, Purie had said the company was looking at launching Esquire, contemplating a Hindi newspaper and making a big splash in the regional publishing space.

Living Media also has a joint venture with German media house, Axel Springer AG, for an auto magazine and an online shopping portal -- Bag it today.

It also has an alliance with the UK-based Daily Mail for the daily tabloid Mail Today.

TV Today has four news channels -- Headlines Today, Aaj Tak, Tez and Delhi Aaj Tak -- and radio stations under the brand Oye FM.

In the December quarter, TV Today posted a profit of Rs 3.5 crore (Rs 35 million), with revenue of Rs 78.68 crore (Rs 786.8 million).

As of September 2011, it had debt of Rs 16.19 crore (Rs 161.9 million).

The company has a market capitalisation of Rs 404 crore (Rs 4.04 billion).

The RP-Sanjiv Goenka group already has some media interest as it runs the weekly general news magazine, Open.

On the other hand, the Birlas had a brief experience in the entertainment business.

In 2003, Kumar Mangalam Birla had launched a movie and television software production company called Applause Entertainment, best known for producing Hindi movies Black and Dev, both starring Amitabh Bachchan.

However, the company was closed in 2009.

M&M's vice-chairman & managing director Anand Mahindra, who studied film-making at Harvard, has a media and entertainment vertical called Mumbai Mantra.

It has produced several regional movies and has a partnership with the renowned Sundance Institute for screen writers. Mahindra's wife runs a lifestyle magazine, Verve.

Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi/Mumbai
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