Flipkart sells small stake to ‘Times of India’ publisher for Rs260 crore

Bengaluru: India’s largest e-commerce firm Flipkart Internet Pvt. Ltd has sold a small stake to media firm Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL) for cash and advertising space in the latter’s media properties, according to regulatory documents and one person familiar with the matter.

BCCL made a private placement offer of about Rs260 crore to buy a warrant for Class B equity shares in Flipkart, according to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies and Tofler, a company research platform.

BCCL invested Rs26 crore in Flipkart in December; the remaining amount will be paid when it converts the warrant into equity shares of Flipkart.

Flipkart has been hammered by valuation markdowns from five of its investors over the past year even as it is in the market to raise fresh funds. While people familiar with the fundraising have said a so-called down round (when investors purchase stock or convertible bonds from a company at a lower valuation than the preceding round) is certain for Flipkart, the deal with BCCL indicates the drop in its valuation may not be as steep as some investors and analysts predicted.

In June last year, Mint reported that Flipkart was in talks to sell an undisclosed stake to BCCL in a deal that would be funded partly by cash and partly by ads.

Sivakumar Sundaram, chief executive of Brand Capital at BCCL, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

A Flipkart spokesperson too declined to comment.

BCCL owns media properties such as The Times of India and The Economic Times newspapers and ET Now and Times Now TV channels.

The Flipkart-BCCL deal is a so-called private treaty deal. First introduced by BCCL in 2004 to build a large portfolio of holdings, such deals were once controversial, especially because they also involved positive media coverage. Since then, however, such deals have become commonplace and transparent, and have to meet mandated disclosure norms.

At BCCL, private treaties are handled by the firm’s Brand Capital unit. HT Media Ltd, the publisher of Mint and Hindustan Times, has its own version of such deals.

The Flipkart deal further burnishes BCCL’s already strong connections with the booming start-up business.

BCCL struck a similar deal with online marketplace Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd) in February 2016. Globally, it also has investments in a large number of start-ups such as Uber Technologies Inc., services provider Haptik and education start-up Coursera.

BCCL also owns real estate listings site magicbricks.com and music start-up Gaana.

Including all its holdings, BCCL owns or has investments in at least a few dozen start-ups and digital properties, many of which are held through its internet arm, Times Internet Ltd. Gautam Sinha heads Times Internet as its CEO, while former CEO Satyan Gajwani is now vice chairman of the internet arm.

BCCL’s investment in Flipkart comes at a time when India’s e-commerce poster-boy is showing early signs of a sustained turnaround after a year of upheaval that marked a change in roles of co-founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. Kalyan Krishnamurthy, a former executive at Flipkart’s largest investor Tiger Global Management, replaced Binny as CEO last month.

ALSO READ | Why Flipkart has turned to Kalyan Krishnamurthy

Flipkart is also trying to close a fresh round of funds. Mint reported in October that Flipkart was seeking to raise $500 million-$1 billion in fresh capital.

Since February 2016, as many as 5 mutual fund investors of Flipkart have marked down its valuation by up to 60%. These markdowns have hurt its valuation demands in the ongoing funding talks, but Flipkart’s budding recovery is expected to improve its bargaining power during the talks.

BCCL and HT Media Ltd, publisher of the Hindustan Times and Mint, compete in some markets.

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