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GMA-7 for sale?

Rappler.com
[UPDATED] The media firm's chairman Felipe Gozon said he is willing to sell his stake in the country's second biggest media group if he is offered P200 billion

FOR SALE? If the price is right for his stake in the network, says GMA Network chair and CEO Felipe Gozon

MANILA, Philippines [UPDATED] – If the price is right, a key owner of GMA Network Inc. is open to selling shares in the country’s second biggest media group.

Expressing his personal opinion during the network’s trade launch on January 18, GMA Network chairman and CEO Felipe Gozon told reporters that his stake in the network is available for sale if it could fetch a price as high as P200 billion. 

“Personally, for me, GMA is for sale for the right price. I don’t solely own GMA but for me that’s what I can say,” said Gozon, a lawyer.

Since 1974, three families – the Gozons, Duavits, and Jimenezes – own and control the network that go by the trade name GMA-7.

A few hours after this news broke, its unit GMA News posted on its Facebook wall that Gozon was only speaking for his own stake in the network.

“As I have said, if I receive an offer of a high price like P200 billion, I am willing to sell MY shares. I cannot speak for the other owners,” Gozon said in the statement.  

GMA Network, a publicly listed firm, has a market share hovering around P22 billion, a fraction of Gozon’s target price. 

According to Forbes, Gozon is the 30th richest in the Philippines in 2011 with a networth of $163 million (est P7 billion).

On the other hand, Duavit, Gozon’s brother-in-law and a former politician, is the 26th richest ($190 million). Co-owner Jimenez is 27th ($79 million).

Not peddling

Gozon also said the network is not seeking buyers. “We are not actively looking for buyers or peddling the station,” he said in his written statement.

Gozon likewise denied the rumored P500 billion buy-out offer from the group of businessman Manuel Pangilinan, whose group controls another broadcast network, TV5. The offer was supposedly made before end-2011.

“That’s a big joke. You can wake me up at night if it is true. But it’s not. If it’s a joke then it’s ok but if it’s not then that scares off investors and the public,” he said when asked about the supposed deal.

He said the network, the second biggest in the local broadcast media market, is not in talks with any group yet.

“We have not received any offer as of now. I don’t know tomorrow or the next day but there are none today,” he said.

News about the deal became hot copy during the last days of 2011, even trending on Twitter.

The camps of Pangilinan and GMA-7 had denied the reported deal.

Fizzle out

This is not the first time that GMA-7 was reported to be on the auction block.

Way back in 2001, it had entered into an agreement with the Pangilinan group’s media arm, MediaQuest, which was interested in a controlling 67% stake. The amount involved then was a modest sum of P8.5 billion.

The purchase deal, however, fizzled out. The creditors of Pangilinan group’s main cash cow then, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), raised concerns over maturing dollar loans.

In 2004, PLDT’s mobile phone arm Smart Communications, renewed talks with GMA-7, but that too did not push through.

Eventually, GMA-7 raised fresh funds to upgrade its regional facilities and improve its studios by selling shares in the Philippine Stock Exchange.

In 2009, the Pangilinan group acquired third liner ABC Development Corp, the operator of TV-5. The acquisition is part of its convergence strategy, which marries content and delivery.

TV-5 has been hiring veteran actors and some news personalities whose contracts with the two biggest networks, ABS-CBN Corporation and GMA Network, have expired.

Gloomy 2011

Advertising sales, the main revenue source of broadcast media, was weak in 2011.

Aside from the lack of political advertisements in 2010, an election year, both ABS-CBN and GMA-7 attributed the weak ad sales to the decision of multinational firms, such as Unilever, P&G, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, to cut back on their ad spending.

In the first 9 months of 2011, Lopez-led ABS-CBN experienced a 23% drop in net income to P2.2 billion from P2.9 billion in the same period in 2010.

GMA-7, on the other hand, reported a 30% profit decline to P1.58 billion in January to September 2011, from P2.72 billion in the same period in 2010.

Its financial performance for the entire year of 2011 is likely a dismal one. Gozon said, “We lost P1 billion last year compared to 2010.”

Earlier, GMA-7 officials said it was aiming to match 2010’s net profits of P3 billion.

Better 2012

Gozon said their 2012 prospects looks better. “This year is a good year. Ads are coming back and we see swamped with more on the onset of the fourth quarter this year in preparation for next year’s election,” he told reporters.

Mid-term elections for local and national officials are scheduled in 2013. Political and advocacy ads in the months leading to an election usually hike profits of media firms.

GMA-7 has a P600 million budget to put up more stations in the provinces, among others.

“GMA continues its aggressive expansion efforts with upgrades in the programming lineup for regional, national, and international audiences,” Gozon said. – Rappler.com