The Essel Group is to sell a further 16.5% stake in Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited, India’s largest private sector broadcast group. The debt-reduction move comes just months after Essel auctioned off an 11% tranche of ZEEL.
“The Group seeks to sell up to 16.5% stake in ZEEL to financial investors, in order to repay loan obligations to certain lenders of the (Essel) Group for whose benefit such shares are currently encumbered (and who have consented to such share sale by the Group),” Essel said in a filing posted to the Bombay Stock Exchange on Wednesday evening. Essel revealed that its holding in ZEEL would fall to 5% following the stake sale.
ZEEL operates 66 linear television channels across 171 countries and is expanding the reach of its streaming platform, Zee5, around the world. The company, which last reported profits of $228 million, also has interests in Indian and international film production.
Essel, which before the stake sale had debts of $2.4 billion, appointed Goldman Sachs in November last year to conduct a strategic review and potentially sell half of its ZEEL stake.
The sale process attracted leading global entertainment groups, including Comcast and James Murdoch. But in the end Subhash Chandra’s Essel chose a financial investor, U.S. investment group Invesco’s Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund, instead.
The sale of ZEEL shares to Invesco brought in $635 million and gave Zee a valuation of $5.77 billion. (The bid from Comcast, Murdoch’s Lupa Systems and investment firms Atairos and Blackstone, reportedly valued ZEEL at $5.43 billion.)
The latest notification to the BSE indicates that Essel’s preference is again for a strategic financial investment, rather than a buy-in by an entertainment industry player. Of the 16.5% tranche Essel, said that it had agreed to sell a 2.3% stake in ZEEL to OFI Global China Fund, LLC and or its affiliates.