Billionaire Ananda, Khazanah in Aussie Internet TV venture

PETALING JAYA: Billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan, together with Khazanah Nasional Bhd, are reported to have invested in an Australian Internet TV company called Fetch TV.

According to The Australian newspaper, the investment could be via Astro All Asia Networks.

Astro had not replied to queries, while Khazanah declined to comment.

The report, quoting unnamed sources, said Ananda was keen to tap opportunities in Australia presented by the country’s ambitious national broadband network, which aimed to wire up Australian homes and businesses with high-speed fibre optic connections.

Called an “open access network”, the plan is to allow third-party service providers to ride on the network to reach customers, not too different from Malaysia’s high-speed broadband project.

Fetch TV is a start-up company run by former employees of telecommunication companies in Australia. It is expected to be launched in Australia early next year and plans to shortly start testing low-cost pay-TV as well as on-demand TV and movie services.

Ananda, who controls Astro, should be able to help Fetch TV with securing its content for its TV service, often seen as the most important success factor in a new TV service.

However, no details have surfaced yet as to how much the investment was worth but indications are that Ananda (possibily through Astro or his private vehicle Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd) and Khazanah have emerged as the major shareholders of Fetch TV.

“It would not be difficult to replicate the Malaysian (Astro) model in Australia but remember it is a small and competitive market, with a population similar to that of Malaysia,” an analyst said.

The Australian explained that the Fetch TV business model relied on signing up a number of second and third-tier telcos and Internet service providers (ISPs).

The telcos and ISPs would then package Fetch TV’s Internet-enabled set-top box and video content to its broadband customers.

That would enable smaller ISPs to compete directly with the Tbox (an IPTV service) unveiled by Telstra, Australia’s incumbent telco, last week.

Telstra intends to launch its Tbox next year to its 2.3 million broadband customers. It is understood the nation’s third-largest ISP, iiNet, is inking a deal with Fetch TV, although the company would not confirm the deal.

“It is believed that Fetch TV’s digital TV set-top box will receive digital free-to-air channels; include access to more than a dozen pay-TV channels; act as a personal video recorder; offer photo storage and other media centre services; include a pay-per-view movie and TV show download service; and allow people to view other Internet content,” the paper reported. Ananda, who pursued his tertiary education at the University of Melbourne, had invested in a troubled newspaper company in Britain, Johnston Press, in 2008.

Khazanah is the second-largest shareholder in Astro with a 21.4% stake. The largest shareholder is Ananda, with a 42.35% stake.

Last week, Ananda – together with Saudi Telecom Co Ltd – had just offered for sale 2.25 billion shares, or 30% stake, in Maxis Bhd in an initial public offering that raised RM11.2bil.

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