Unexpected Turn: Zee And Sony Rekindle $10-Bn Merger Talks

In a plot twist reminiscent of India’s dramatic nighttime TV serials, Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL) has rekindled negotiations with Sony Group Corp to salvage their once-abandoned $10-billion merger. A fresh media report now reveals that representatives from both companies have met in Mumbai recently, but significant differences remain unresolved.

What Happened? According to a report by the Economic Times, the crux of the issue lies in a $300 million dispute over cricket rights. Sony insists on an upfront write-off, while Zee prefers to delay it.

Additionally, ZEEL’s MD and CEO Punit Goenka has reportedly given up his previous demand to become the CEO of the merged entity. Sony had opposed this role for him until he cleared his name from allegations of financial mismanagement in his family’s Essel Group.

Disagreements also persist over crucial conditions precedent (CPs) of the deal.

Zee wants to make the agreement unchangeable once it’s signed. However, Sony is hesitant to make this commitment because the company’s value and finances have worsened significantly since they first agreed in late 2021.

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Despite these hurdles, Zee’s performance shows signs of recovery, with a 141% jump in net profit in the quarter ending December, even as revenue dipped slightly. Its streaming arm ZEE5 also reports positive trends.

More legalities to take care of: The legal landscape is equally complex. Both parties have approached various legal forums, including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SAIC) and the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). The NCLT is set to hear the case on March 12.

As of December 2023, the Goenka family owns 3.99% of ZEEL, with the rest held by public and institutional shareholders, including Indian mutual funds and insurance companies like LIC, and foreign institutional investors.

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