Malaysia

Kenneth Eswaran behind new pay-TV venture

By Jahabar Sadiq
Editor

October 28, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 — Businessman Datuk K.K. Eswaran, who has close ties with Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s family, is behind the new cable television venture Nilamas Corporation Sdn Bhd, which is to start service as early as the first half of next year, say industry sources.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the company, which expects to spend RM2 billion to challenge satellite TV operator Astro for a share of the local market, has now been renamed Asian Broadcasting Network Sdn Bhd. The new brand will be launched next month.

“Datuk Kenneth Eswaran (picture) is behind this venture and his ties with the first family have ensured he got fast approval for the required licences,” an industry source told The Malaysian Insider, referring to the Indian businessman’s preferred name.

Those close to the venture confirmed Eswaran’s interest, pointing out that Nilamas shares two common directors with the businessman’s main corporate vehicle, Pinehill Pacific Berhad. The two are former top civil servants Tan Sri Mohamad Noor Abdul Rahim and Datuk Nik Mohd Amin Nik Abu Bakar.

“Eswaran is politically connected. It’s no surprise he got quick approvals but he now has to launch it,” another industry source said, confirming the new brand name launch is slated for next month.

Eswaran is the deputy executive chairman of Pinehill Pacific, where he is a substantial shareholder. The company has made a few name changes from its original Benta Plantations to Best World Land Bhd in 1995, a year after Eswaran came in, and then renamed Multi Vest Resources Bhd in 2000. It took its present name last January.

The businessman was elected president of the Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MAICCI) in June 2008 and was linked to Najib’s family by popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, who edits the Malaysia-Today news portal.

The Star daily reported last week that Nilamas had secured all the requisite licences to offer digital cable TV in the country, and will compete in the pay-TV space with Astro All Asia Networks plc (Astro) and several IPTV providers including Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM).

The set-up cost for the cable network offering is expected to be more than RM2 billion over a five-year period and Nilamas, according to sources, is looking at a 40:60 equity-debt combination to fund its venture.

Retired navy chief and former armed forces chief Admiral (Ret) Tan Sri Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor is one of the directors of the company, which has invested in a building in Puchong for its broadcasting centre.

The newspaper also said the new station plans to offer entertainment and educational programmes with an interactive focus.

Nilamas secured the requisite licences to offer subscription broadcasting in the country from the industry regulator, Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission, on August 11 and with this licence it is allowed to offer broadcasting services for a fee.

The company also has network facilities licences that will allow it to build up a network and also a network service provider licence. The licences are valid for five years.

It has begin hiring people and already has a chief executive officer, television industry veteran Sreedhar Subramaniam, who had served as chief financial officer in NTV7 and also as chief executive of The Malaysian Insider.

The Star quoted sources as saying the company now has 20 people and is looking to expand to 800 by the time of its launch.

Sources also said the company was in talks with numerous content providers but added that it might find it difficult to secure content already sold to competitors such as Astro and TM.

Astro began service in 1996 with 22 channels and took a decade to break even. It currently broadcasts some 125 pay-TV channels in four major languages including eight channels in high definition across Malaysia and Brunei to more than 2.93 million households.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that the new venture would use fibre for its backhaul which will be leased from fibre operators such as TM, Time dotCom Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Fiberail and Fibercom.