The Piccadilly Group is a Delhi-based corporate conglomerate, with business interests spanning sugar manufacturing, alcohol, real estate, hospitality, and film distribution. It’s also involved in the media industry. In 2007, iTV Network was founded by the third-generation member of the group’s family, Kartikeya Sharma.
Sharma, an Oxford graduate with an MBA from King’s College London, is also the founder of the Pro Wrestling League and the Indian Arena Polo League, both initiatives of his sporting venture ProSportify. His brother Manu Sharma was convicted in the Jessica Lal murder case while his family is involved in politics. Sharma’s father Venod Sharma is a former Congress leader who was a minister in Haryana and in the union government, and started the Jan Chetna Party in 2014. His father-in-law Kuldeep Sharma is a Congress leader and was speaker of the Haryana assembly when Bhupinder Singh Hooda was the chief minister.
Kartikeya himself most recently made headlines by becoming the Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana as an independent candidate, defeating senior Congress leader Ajay Maken.
Sharma started iTV Network 15 years ago with a weekly Hindi magazine, Aaj Samaj. By 2008, iTV also had a Hindi daily, India News, and then entered TV news with a Hindi channel by the same name. Over the years, India News has expanded into the regional TV news space with channels including India News Haryana, India News Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand, India News Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh, India News Punjab, India News Gujarat, India News North East and India News Kannada.
Sharma’s strategy to expand iTV Network’s media profile has largely been through acquisitions and tie-ups.
In 2012, he bought MJ Akbar’s The Sunday Guardian. A year later, he stepped into the English TV news space and bought NewsX, which was founded by Peter Mukherjea as part of INX Media with his then wife Indrani. In 2013, iTV Network also entered into a deal with Cent Percent Media Solutions Pvt Ltd, an outsourcing advertising and sales organisation with a core focus on regional and niche TV brands.
More recently, in 2021, iTV Network acquired a majority stake in the Real Kashmir, a startup digital news agency founded by Sajid Yousuf Shah to spotlight “positive news from the Kashmir valley”. It also entered into a strategic partnership with Savio Rodrigues’s Goa Chronicle. Moreover, to consolidate its presence in India’s fast-growing sports media segment, iTV Network acquired a majority stake in the radio business of Sports Flashes through its subsidiary, ProSportify Holding Pvt Ltd.
In total, iTV Network today has eight news channels, four non-news and entertainment channels (including P Tunes, Plus, Andy and Free TV), and seven registered print publications – Aaj Samaj, The Daily Guardian Review, The Sunday Guardian, Business Guardian, The Financial Guardian, and The Independent Guardian. India News, besides being a Hindi weekly, is also separately registered as an English and Urdu daily with RNI. iTV’s digital properties include inkhabar.com, legally-speaking.in, medicallyspeaking.in, defenceguardian.com and critic.com, apart from 16 websites that are largely online portals of their print and TV properties.
Furthermore, the network owns two YouTube channels. Mum Mum TV focuses on bringing popular nursery rhymes to life through music and animation, and Teekhi Mirchi is a politoons series that does spoofs and humorous videos on issues trending in India related to politics and Bollywood.
In May this year, iTV also launched the iTV Media Institute in Delhi.
iTV Network’s main holding company is Information TV Private Ltd, or ITPL. ITPL’s biggest shareholder is Mark Buildtech Private Ltd, with 40.01 percent stake, followed by Malvina Developers Private Ltd (33.96 percent), Direct News Private Ltd (16.12 percent), SGY Properties Private Ltd (7.54 percent) and Lakshya Buildtek Private Ltd (2.3 percent).
The company’s promoters, Kartikeya Sharma and Sumit Kumar Dhewan, own 0.033 and 0.003 percent shares respectively.
While Kartikeya directly holds only a miniscule share in ITPL, he owns 99.5 percent of shares in Mark Buildtech, ITPL’s biggest shareholder. This indirectly also makes him the largest shareholder.
Furthermore, Direct News Private Ltd owns a controlling stake (63.5 percent) in Malvina Developers, ITPL’s second largest shareholder. The remainder is a cross-holding by ITPL, which owns 36.5 percent of Malvina’s shares. In turn, Direct News Private Ltd is owned by Indi Media Company Private Ltd that holds 99.68 percent of Direct News’ shares; the remaining 0.32 percent is held by INX News Employee Trust.
Kartikeya Sharma owns 99.9 percent shares in Indi Media while Sumit Kumar Dewan owns 0.009 percent.
What this means is that through this network of companies, Sharma indirectly holds a controlling stake in ITPL – in this case, over 77.6 percent.
According to his election affidavit, Sharma owns assets worth Rs 390.63 crore. This includes Rs 367.65 crore in Mark Buildtech, Rs 35.04 lakh in Soon-N-Sure Holdings Ltd (which owns 99.5 percent of ITPL’s minor shareholder Lakshya Buildtek), and Rs 14.60 crore in Piccadilly Hotels Private Ltd.
While SGY Properties owns a relatively small stake in ITPL (7.54 percent), it also has an 18.71 percent stake in Good Morning India Media Private Ltd, a subsidiary of Mark Buildtech (60.66 percent stake) and iTV Network’s print arm.
SGY Properties may not immediately ring a bell, but for those who followed the DLF-Robert Vadra land grab controversy in 2013 the name Satyanand Yayjee might. Yayjee owns SGY Properties, which was called Onkareshwar Properties until 2017. Onkareshwar Properties had sold 3.5 acres in Shikohpur village to Vadra’s Skylight Properties. Bhupinder Singh Hooda was also under the scanner over this deal, and Sharma’s Mark Buildtech was to have possible links.
Media verticals and the moolah metre
Registered under the category of telecommunication, broadcasting and information supply services, ITPL states its main product or service as news channels.
And rightly so. All the network’s channels under the India News brands as well as NewsX, and its non-news channel, Free TV, are registered under ITPL as per the information and broadcasting ministry’s 2019 list of free-to-air channels.
Since ITPL’s financial statements post FY 2018 are not available with the ministry of corporate affairs, it isn’t possible to ascertain the current financial health of iTV Network’s TV arm. But what we can glean from the company’s financial statements prior to FY2018 is that the company, on record, is primarily engaged in the business of media as well as real estate. Also, its revenues and profits began sliding in 2016. From a profit of Rs 14 crore in 2015, it reached a loss of Rs 49 crore in 2017. 2018 saw a recovery with the loss reducing to Rs 19.21 crore.
In 2021, Jitendrabhai D Patel, filed a complaint against Information TV Private Limited and Prevalent News Private Limited with the Registrar of Companies. As per the complaint, Information TV Private Limited signed an MoU with Patel in May 2018 to establish and run a Gujarati news channel to be called India News Gujarat, incorporating a new company to be named Prevalent News Private Limited.
But according to Patel’s complaint, several discrepancies followed, including the amount invested by him (over Rs. 10.75 crore or 77 percent of the total commitment towards agreed upon share warrants) in Prevalent News, for operations and capital expenditure, not being utilised in the manner agreed upon and instead having been transferred to ITPL without consent or any provision for it in the MoU.
The subject of the complaint cites “misrepresentations, abusive exercise of power, false, deceptive, misleading, deliberately concealing material facts and indicative fraudulent intent in case of Information TV Private Limited and Prevalent News Pvt Ltd as well as its group of companies directly or indirectly connected/incorporated attracting serious fraud”.
The complaint requests the RoC for “inspection, inquiry, and investigation under Chapter XIV (sections 206 to 229) of the companies act, 2013.”
Coming to iTV Network’s print arm, most of its daily, weekly and monthly publications are registered under Good Morning India Media Pvt Ltd (GMIMPL), as per the Registrar of Newspapers in India. An exception is the Sunday Guardian, which was originally launched by MJ Akbar under his publishing company MJP Media Pvt. Ltd in 2010. A year before, Akbar had also launched Covert magazine under MJP Media, which is now a subsidiary of GMIMPL, which holds 97.3 percent stake. GMIMPL has petitioned the National Company Law Tribunal for an amalgamation whereby Milap News Pvt. Ltd and MJP Media can be merged into Good Morning India Media.
In the past five years, GMIMPL saw its highest revenue in 2019 (Rs 50.04 crore as per the standalone financial statement and Rs 57.29 as per the consolidated statement), followed by 2020 (Rs 46.28 crore as per standalone, Rs 49.36 consolidated). It saw a dip only in 2021 when income stood at Rs 29 crore (standalone) and Rs 28 crore (consolidated).
That said, while the income was lower in 2021, profits that year were the highest in five years – Rs 2.91 crore (standalone) and Rs 7.74 crore (consolidated). Its income, as stated in official documents, is from the sale of newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements and services, the pandemic clearly didn’t act as a dampener to its bottomline.
The ownership of the digital business is tough to ascertain.
This data for each of their online portals is not available on their websites. Furthermore, on perusing data with domain registrars, one can only trace eight of iTV Network’s 20-plus websites. They include defenceguardian.com, aajsamaj.com and six India News websites; they are all registered under ITPL. For the remaining websites, including several under the India News brand, details with registrars are either unavailable or registered privately.
For a few websites, Direct News Private Ltd is shown alongside a copyright mark. In others, even that is not indicated, but Direct News’s registered address comes up in the contact information. But when you try matching this data with domain registrars, there is nothing to corroborate it. Moreover, Direct News’s financial statements also do not confirm its involvement in the digital business – its main business segments are divided into news channel and real estate developer, with its product or service described as advertisement revenue further explained as “revenues are recognised as and when advertisement is broadcasted or telecasted”. Nothing to indicate income from digital business. Also, the only news channel registered under Direct News, as per the aforementioned FTA channel list, is IMN News (NewsX).
Intzar Ali and Rakesh Sharma, who is also committee member and director with the Indian Newspaper Society, are directors in all three companies – Info TV, Good Morning India Media, and Direct News – as well as several other companies owned by or associated with iTV Network.
All financial and ownership details are derived from financial statements and other company documents filed by the media house with the ministry of corporate affairs, the Bombay Stock Exchange, and the National Stock Exchange.
Infographics by Gobindh VB.
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