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Sony Is In Talks With Zee To Buy 20% Stake

Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corporation is in talks with Subhash Chandra to buy a stake in Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) and form a strategic partnership. 

Chandra is looking to sell 20-25% stake in the BSE-listed company that is struggling to raise funds and pay off debt, said the people cited above, requesting anonymity.

They said the entire amount raised through the stake sale would be used to repay promoter debt worth ₹13,000 crore.

The talks have reached the valuation stage, wherein Chandra wants to sell the stake at a premium of about 30%, said the first of the three people cited above. The sticking point could be the quantum of stake Chandra wants to retain in Zee. Essel Group holds a 41.62% stake in Zee, of which more than half is pledged with lenders, according to latest available data.

“He (Chandra) wants to have at least a 20% stake in the company. He wants it. So, that depends on what price he is getting. Almost 940 million shares are there. At ₹650 level, even if he sells 19%, he gets up to ₹13,000 crore, which will take care of the situation,” said one of the three people cited earlier, whose bank has exposure to Zee.

On Wednesday, shares of ZEEL fell 3.35% to close at ₹448.10, widely underperforming a 0.58% rise in the benchmark Sensex.

A potential deal with Zee—which has as many as 66 television channels across 171 countries—will be a big boost to Sony, the Indian subsidiary of which operates 29 television channels.

Zee has also entered the over the top space with Zee5. Sony, on the other hand, runs the SonyLiv digital platform, which competes with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Fox’s Hotstar, among others. Sony is also active in local film production via its Sony Pictures banner.

Chandra has been in talks with potential buyers to sell the group’s assets, including infrastructure assets and parts of the financial services business. In January, Chandra, who has been under pressure from lenders to pay up, won a three-month reprieve to find a buyer for ZEEL to raise the money.

To be sure, clarity on a potential deal can be ascertained only in the next few weeks as the promoters approach the repayment deadline. Zee managing director Punit Goenka, however, previously claimed that the deadline had been extended beyond April 2019.

A second person aware of the matter said Sony wanted to pick up at least 25%, which would also allow it to have promoter rights. Reliance Industries Ltd had also engaged with Chandra, but the discussions didn’t progress, the person added.

“Moratorium deadline is approaching fast. He might just sell at some discount also,” this person said.

A spokesperson for Sony said the company had “no comment at this time”. A Zee spokesperson said the company does not comment on speculation. “The stake sale process of ZEEL is in steady progress… Any additional details cannot be shared at this stage due to confidentiality agreements,” the spokesperson said.