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Private equity

PEFs zoom in on Korean drama producer as strategic buyers pull back

Aug 27, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

A pre-IPO share sale by South Korean TV drama producer JTBC Studios Co. Ltd. has attracted Bain Capital Credit, TPG Capital and a few Korean private equity firms, amid lack of interest from strategic buyers.

A dearth of strategic buyers, however, may not signal a lower valuation for the entertainment unit of the country’s leading media group. Some Korean private equity houses put the value of JTBC Studios at around 1 trillion won ($843 million), more than twice the valuation proposed by the company, and are thus emerging as strong candidates, according to industry banking sources on August 26.

JTBC Studios is selling a stake of up to 30% in itself in a pre-IPO placement to fund its content and streaming service expansion. Prior to the share placement, it will absorb the drama investment operation of Jcontentree Corp., its biggest shareholder.

The shares on offer are unlikely to come with management rights, putting off strategic buyers such as the country’s biggest internet portal Naver Corp and top-ranked mobile carrier SK Telecom Co. Ltd.

But they may provide a rare opportunity to invest in a content production company with a strong track record. The producer of the recent hit TV series The World of the Married, Itaewon Class and Sky Castle has been benefiting from growing viewership of Korean TV series and movies on online platforms such as Netflix Inc.

The size of the stake up for sale will be determined after binding bids are submitted. JTBC may split the share sale to several buyers.

JTBC Studios

SHORTLIST

The pre-IPO share sale by JTBC Studios drew eight to nine preliminary bidders by the August 7 deadline.

These were whittled down to six to seven candidates comprised mostly of financial investors, the sources said. Aside from the two US-based private equity firms Bain and TPG, three domestic PEFs – JKL Partners, Praxis Capital Partners and SG Private Equity – were shortlisted for the auction. One or two strategic buyers were selected as well, but unidentified.

This week, Morgan Stanley, the underwriter of the stake sale, opened a virtual data room to allow due diligence for the next six to eight weeks.

In the early stage of the auction, the selling side made clear its preference for strategic buyers and global private equity firms, stressing the importance of deal-closing capabilities. But JTBC Studios’ proposed value left some potential buyers hesitant to enter the race.

JTBC Studios had demanded its enterprise value should reflect the same multiple of 20 times 2019 EBITDA as its bigger domestic rival Studio Dragon. In November of last year, Netflix applied the multiple of 20 to buy a 4.99% stake in Studio Dragon.

Last year, JTBC Studios posted a net profit of 7.8 billion won against revenues of 188.9 billion won, up 32% and 17% year on year, respectively.

Jcontentree Corp., a listed holding company of the media group, controls 60.5% of JTBC Studios. The combined ownership of the holding firm, its affiliates and their family members is 91.5%.

By Jun Ho Cha

chacha@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article

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