Malaysian billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan steps up foray into India media

MELBOURNE-educated Malaysian billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan is stepping up his media foray into the Indian market, adding an increased stake in a radio network last week to his existing interests in television and mobile telephony.
Astro targets booming India media

Expansion: Billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan’s Astro All Asia Networks is targeting India media. Picture: Bloomberg
Krishnan’s main listed media and entertainment arm, Astro All Asia Networks, paid just over $20 million on August 4 to lift its stake from 7 per cent to 20 per cent in the Sun FM radio network that runs more than 40 FM radio stations across India.

Sun FM is owned by one of India’s richest men, Chennai-based media tycoon Kalanithi Maran, whose Sun TV Network attracts the biggest audiences in the south with multiple channels in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada languages.

Astro already owns 20 per cent of Maran’s Sun Direct TV, a direct-to-home (DTH) broadcaster that is picking up subscribers rapidly as the DTH distribution model becomes more popular in India.

At Astro’s annual general meeting presentation in Kuala Lumpur last month, chief financial officer Grant Ferguson said Astro aimed to become a “preferred partner” for media companies across Asia. He said the large underdeveloped media and entertainment markets in the region would provide possible opportunities for Astro’s expansion.

Regional radio and television is booming in India’s south, with Rajesh Jain, KPMG’s Mumbai-based head of communications and information for India, telling The Australian recently that regional media is attracting a host of investments from established players and venture capitalists.

Even with the recent downturn in advertising, KPMG estimates that India’s television revenue nationwide will grow from 262.7 billion rupees ($6.6bn) this year to 472.6 billion rupees ($11.85bn) by 2013. The much-smaller radio market will likely grow from 9.2 billion rupees ($230 million) this year to 16.3 billion rupees ($408m) by 2013.

Jain said investors, marketers and advertisers were drawn by the largely untapped consumer market in Indian regional “tier one” cities with populations of one to four million and “tier three” cities with populations of 500,000 to one million.

Ananda Krishnan has long had an interest in India’s south, stemming from his ethnic Tamil background and family origins in Sri Lanka. His grandfather migrated from what was then British-ruled Ceylon to Malaysia to work as a public servant.

Krishnan, who was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1938 and is based there, keeps a low profile and holds no executive positions in the four major Malaysian companies he controls: Astro All Asia Networks, satellite operator Measat Global, mobile phone company Maxis Communications and the diversified power, property and gaming entity Tanjong. His main holding companies are Binariang GSM and Usaha Tegas.

The unlisted Maxis, Malaysia’s largest mobile phone company, is involved in India through its 74 per cent holding in Chennai-based mobile carrier Aircel — a stake bought for $1.4bn in January 2006 and now thought to be worth around $5bn. Aircel, which has 20 million subscribers, is particularly strong in Tamil Nadu state but aims to be a fully fledged national operator by the end of this year.

Krishnan took Maxis private in 2007 to spare minority shareholders the risk associated with overseas expansion, but there has been renewed speculation in Kuala Lumpur this month that he will move to relist Maxis on the Malaysian stock exchange before the year is out. A key shareholder is Saudi Telecom Co, which already has a 25 per cent stake in Maxis.

Ananda Krishnan, who graduated from Melbourne University on a Colombo Plan scholarship and later did his MBA at Harvard University, is regarded as Malaysia’s second richest man, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine earlier this year at $US7bn ($8.5bn).

Apart from his media, entertainment and gaming interests in Malaysia and India, he holds a 20 per cent stake in British regional newspaper chain Johnston Press, which produces 18 daily newspapers, 330 weekly titles and their associated websites in the UK and Ireland. He also owns one of Australia’s best known thoroughbred racing studs, Kia Ora, near the Hunter Valley town of Scone.

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