OSN mulls taking the small screen to the stock market

The broadcaster of Games of Thrones could become the first regional media company to sell shares after owners appointed Rothschild as adviser for an initial public offering.

OSN, the regional broadcaster of Game of Thrones and other popular television series, has taken a step towards a public stock offfering. HBO / AP Photo
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OSN could become the first regional media company to list after its owners appointed Rothschild as its adviser for an initial public offering.

The Dubai-based TV network, which broadcasts Game of Thrones and the Turkish epic Hareem Al Sultan in the region, is controlled by Kuwait Projects Company (Kipco) and the Saudi Arabia-based Mawarid Group.

Whether the company seeks to list on local exchanges is also the first major test of their investor appeal following the Emirates' upgrade to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index this month.

No company has listed on the UAE's domestic equity markets since 2011.

Kipco said Rothschild would evaluate OSN's strategy and business to advise shareholders on the options available for listing the company, in a statement released yesterday.

"OSN's market position and potential for future growth has created an opportunity for an IPO that we now want to explore with our partner Mawarid Group," said Faisal Al Ayyarm, Kipco's vice chairman.

OSN has generated "substantial growth in both revenue and subscribers" since its creation in a merger in 2009 by offering on-demand pay-TV, becoming "one of the fastest-growing TV companies in the world", Kipco added.

Kipco owns 60.5 per cent of OSN, with Mawarid Group owning the remaining shares.

No Arabian Gulf media company has yet sold shares to the public, although a number of telecom companies offer media content as part of their service bundles, said Petr Molik,the chief financial officer of the brokerage Menacorp.

"They would be the first pure media company and there wouldn't be any direct comparable in the region," he said. "Here in the UAE there could be a mild overlap with some activities of Etisalat and du."

The IPO deal for Rothschild comes on the heels of the bank's role advising on the listing of Al Noor Hospitals Group, Abu Dhabi's biggest healthcare company, which raised £221 million (Dh1.25 billion) on Friday in a deal that valued the firm at US$1.06bn.

In the past two years companies including NMC Health and Amira Nature Foods as well as Al Noor Hospitals have all opted to raise money overseas rather than in local markets.

It is unclear whether the listing would follow Al Noor Hospitals to London.

Investors have long complained that the stocks listed on local markets do not properly reflect the diversity of the UAE economy, but newly listed companies are increasingly heading overseas to list shares because of the difficulties of obtaining a market-determined price for their stocks.

For listings on the Dubai Financial Market and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, pricing is determined by the Securities and Commodities Authority rather than based on demand for a company's shares.

Al Habtoor Group, the Dubai-based conglomerate, cancelled an IPO valued at $1.6bn on the Nasdaq Dubai late last year because of scarce investment opportunities to use the funds raised.

Senaat, the company formerly known as General Holding Company, Damac Properties and Daman Investments are among the companies known to be mulling share sales on local markets.

The Emirates will be added to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, the most widely used benchmark of growth market stocks from next May. The deal was likely to be viewed with interest by other media companies contemplating a similar deal.

"I'm sure that the whole market will look to it and see how OSN is doing and what type of multiples can be achieved as a pure-play media company," Mr Molik said.