|Venkatchari Jagannathan looks at the Southern media Kalanithi Maran's media empire.|
Chennai: Creating waves, not ripples is what Sun TV Limited's chairman and managing director Kalanithi Maran (40) does. Earlier this week he created news by becoming a billionaire - officially - immediately after Sun TV's maiden public issue; his 89.99-per cent stake in the company touched a market valuation of around Rs9,090 crore on the day the scrip was listed.
Not that Maran is unaccustomed to wealth. Prior to the listing, the Maran family was rumoured to be one of the Asia's wealthiest.
Early this April, Sun TV took the building route to offer 68.89 lakh shares (10 per cent of the total equity) to the public at a price band of Rs730-875. As the issue was oversubscribed 47 times, the final price was fixed at Rs875.
And now Maran is in news for the wrong reasons. A report in The New Indian Express on April 27, 2006, reported that Maran wanted a 33-per cent stake in the Tata-Star group's DTH at par value. When the Tatas refused to accede to his request, Maran's younger brother and union telecom and IT minister Dayanidhi Maran is alleged to have threatened the industrial conglomerate with delaying sanctioning the group's telecom plans.
According to the daily, the Tatas declined to comment on the matter while the union minister was initially evasive. He subsequently refuted the allegation saying that his ministry was not the licensing authority for DTH operations.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has demanded removal of the minister from the union cabinet.
With Tamil Nadu in the election mode - the state goes to polls on May 8, 2006 - the Marans are under attack, mainly from MDMK leader and member of Parliament, Vaiko. The reason? Maran is the son of late union minister Murasoli Maran and the grandson of the DMK party chief M Karunanidhi, who is Jayalalitha's bitter political foe - and Vaiko has allied himself with Jayalalitha.
The focal point of Vaiko's attack is the media empire built by the elder Maran consisting of 14 television channels in the four southern languages, the lucrative cable TV business, four FM radio stations, two Tamil newspapers and four Tamil magazines. Even the Express report is a sequel to Vaiko's allegation.
Interestingly, the huge market valuation of Sun TV's scrip is only for six television channels (four Tamil channels - Sun TV, KTV, Sun News and Sun Music, and two Malayalam channels - Surya TV and Kiran TV) and the one Tamil FM radio Suriyan.
Amongst the Tamil channels owned by the company, Sun TV commands an audience share of 46.7 per cent , KTV (17 per cent), Sun News (1.4 per cent), Sun Music (6.3 per cent). The share of the nearest competitors is Jaya TV (4.4 per cent) and Star Vijay (4.3 per cent). The company's Malayalam language channels, Surya TV and Kiran TV command an audience share of 26.7 per cent and 7.4 per cent as against Asianet's 21.9 per cent.
Sun TV closed FY 2005 with a revenue of Rs301 crore and a net profit of Rs78 crore. For the six months ended September 2005 the revenue and the net profit was Rs158 crore and Rs61.4 crore. The company's net worth was Rs467.73 crore.
In March 2005, the company transferred the lucrative cable TV/multi system operator (MSO) business to another group company Kal Cables Private Limited and on April 1, 2006, Sun TV sold its conditional access system (CAS) operations to Kal Cables.
If one goes by the company's prospectus, Maran now heads an empire with revenues estimated at Rs620 crore and reserves of around Rs637 crore. It will be interesting to note how the market values the other two major channels of the Sun Network viz the Gemini TV (FY 2005 Revenue Rs154.5 crore; Reserves Rs117.18 crore) and the Udaya TV (FY 2005 Revenue Rs73.7 crore; Reserves Rs105 crore).
The object of the Sun TV's IPO is to launch new channels at an outlay of Rs113 crore, radio stations, and fund the construction of its corporate office, among other plans. The company has successfully bid for 67 FM stations.
Not many know that Maran led a student procession during his days in college in the late '80s, where he suffered injuries in the ensuing police lathi charge. Contrary to expectations, he stayed away from politics. "There are too many politicians in my family," is his standard refrain.
After his graduating in commerce from the University of Madras, he went to the US to study for his MBA from the University of Scranton and returned much against his father's wish of getting a doctorate. He joined the family publication business and later started the Tamil video magazine Poomalai in 1991. Two years later, he launched Sun TV channel.
With the leadership in the television and FM radio business, Maran trained his sights on the Tamil newspaper segment. Buying out an existing Tamil daily Dinakaran for an unspecified sum - unconfirmed reports put the price at Rs300 crore - he first launched an evening paper Tamizh Murasu in September 2005 in Chennai. The 20-page paper was priced at Rs2 but the net price worked out to Re1 as it carried a free gift. A similar strategy with the Kungumam Tamil weekly, had boosted its circulation.
Interestingly, the other Tamil evening dailies - Malai Malar and Malai Murasu are priced at Rs3 while Makkal Kural is priced Rs2. However, their number of pages range from four to eight.
While warning bells started ringing in the Tamil daily offices when Dinakaran was going to be relaunched. As expected, the Pudhiya (new) Dinakaran was priced at Re1. The paper hired journalists paying them attractive salaries. In a short span of time the paper claims a daily circulation of 10 lakh.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for most of the media to support the AIADMK alliance in the forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
Maran surely has a nose for business. In the 14 years of operations, the Sun Network has as many number of channels. It is said his decision making is quick and smooth.
For a long time Maran has been toying with an idea of launching an English daily. But that might have to wait for some more time as he has to first use the IPO proceeds for the objects it was raised.