Jio eyes stakes in Zee; Airtel denies ‘race of acquisition’

A successful bid in Zee would help the companies in providing their customers a plethora of video services to add to its revenue

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Mumbai: Billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal were said to be vying for stakes in Zee, the heavily in-debted television network that wishes to diversify to the world’s second-biggest mobile market.

A representative for the media company said that the company does not believe in commenting on speculations though he is apprised of the fact that it is in a “steady dialogue” with all potential partners.

Reliance Jio Infocomm is yet to comment on the development. Bharti Airtel has denied it is eyeing stakes in Zee. “Airtel is not in the race to acquire Zee,” a Bharti spokesperson said in a statement.

With the 5G airwaves slated for auction this year, companies are eager to bank on it. A successful bid would help a company provide the customers with a number of video services and add to its revenue. Some of the world’s largest telecommunication companies including AT&T Inc, Vodafone Group Plc and KDDI Corp have been busy buying film and television production and cable TV assets to bolster their earnings.

Since the entertainment providers themselves gather content to offer programmes through the Internet and compete with upstarts like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, such companies are at the heart of the bidders.

Zee, owned by media mogul Subhash Chandra, is in the need of a strategic investor to survive the competition from not only Netflix and Amazon but also a plethora of local TV channels that are trying to tap into India’s booming demand for content.

Zee, which boasts of 1.3 billion viewers across 173 countries through its 78 channels and 4,800 movie titles, drew interest from Sony Corp and Comcast Corp earlier, but that has not fructified yet.

Bharti has been adding some digital services to its portfolios such as apps for e-books and music. Just last year, Bharti entered a content deal with Zee for exclusive videos on Airtel applications.

In February, Bharti revealed plans to raise as much as $4.6 billion from a rights issue and bond sale to build a strongbox which would help the company as the war with Jio intensifies.

In January, in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos to a news channel, Mittal had said that Airtel would have to provide its subscribers content from the likes of Zee, Netflix and Amazon to get them to use more and more data, thereby increasing the company’s revenue.