Next Media HQ. (Photo/Chen Cho-pang)
Hong Kong's Next Media on Tuesday formally announced that it intends to sell the print media and assets of the group in Taiwan, including the local editions of the country's top-selling newspaper Apple Daily, Sharp Daily and Next Magazine. The announcement has shocked the industry, according to China Times, our Chinese-language sister newspaper.
The list of potential buyers is a cavalcade of tycoons, including HTC chairwoman Cher Wang, THW Group chairman Wang Wen-yang, Fubon Financial chairman Daniel Tsai, Ruentex Group president Samuel Yin, Citic's Koo family and Hong Kong's wealthiest man Li Ka-shing, in addition to one or two foreign private equity funds. According to internal sources, the candidate currently in the best position now is the joint team of Daniel Tsai and the US private equity fund Carlyle, though both have denied the reports.
Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai has been seeking to offload Next TV, which has been a major financial burden on the company. The sell-off of the group's print titles would signify a full withdrawal of Next Media from Taiwan.
A source in the market indicated that in accordance with the provisions of the Hong Kong Act, a company is obliged to make an announcement after a buyer formally tables a bid in order to prevent insider trading. Next Media made an announcement on Sept. 4, suggesting at least one buyer has officially made an offer.
Although many names have been doing the rounds, Daniel Tsai is regarded as the most likely candidate to achieve a successful deal. When Fubon's Big Rich Media brought Kbroc, Taiwan's National Communications Commission ruled that the company cannot apply for a financial channel and a news channel within three years. Print media is not covered by the NCC, however, so Tsai would be free to proceed.
Carlyle, a reported bidder for Next TV, is also familiar to the industry, having once owned Kbroc.
However, Fubon and Kbroc have denied that Tsai is bidding for Next Media's print titles, while Carlyle has also said it is not involved in a bid. This does not rule out the prospect that a bid has been tabled on behalf of an individual or family rather than a company.