Report: Turner eyes NDTV stake

NBCU exit paves way for possible partnership

NEW DELHI -- Turner Broadcasting is reportedly eyeing a “major” stake in NDTV Imagine, owned by London-incorporated unit NDTV Networks Plc.

Two weeks ago, NDTV informed the Bombay Stock Exchange without giving figures that it was buying back a 26% stake from NBC Universal, which NBCU had bought in NDTV in May 2008 for $150 million. Since then, there's been intense speculation as to which strategic partner would pick up a stake in NDTV.

Quoting sources, Guardian Media Group Web site reported late Tuesday that Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting unit is close to acquiring a “very high level of holding” -- which could be as high as 80-90% -- in NDTV Imagine. Both NDTV and Turner declined to comment.

Earlier, had reported that another potential NDTV suitor could be Malaysia’s Astro All Asia Networks Plc, given that the two companies jointly run Indonesia’s Astro Awani channel, which broadcasts in the Bahasa language.

NDTV runs leading English and Hindi news channels NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India and forayed into entertainment with generic Hindi channel NDTV Imagine last year. The network also runs world cinema channel NDTV Lumiere, among other ventures.

In addition to running its international channels here such as Cartoon Network, Pogo and CNN, Turner moved into Hindi entertainment this March, launching the Real channel as an equal joint venture with leading production house Miditech. But Real has performed poorly, leading Turner to announce in September that it would be “downsizing” its operations in India.

Observers reckon that buying a stake in NDTV could give Turner a much-needed foothold in India's lucrative Hindi entertainment market worth an estimated $555 million.

Meanwhile, NDTV also announced its second quarter results Wednesday which show the company has reduced its losses to $19 million, down 28.3% from the same period last year, the result of a cost-cutting drive and less spending.

NDTV's consolidated revenue for the second quarter grew by 17% to $31.2 million, compared to $26.7 million in the corresponding period last year. "The remarkable thing we have done is cut down our costs by $4.5 million for the first six months. And we have achieved this not just by reducing staff expenses but across all operational lines. We will be continuing with this cost-trimming exercise," said NDTV Ltd. Group CEO K V L Narayan Rao.