EX-Thaksin lawyer Wichai enters cable-TV arena

business April 04, 2012 00:00

By Usanee Mongkolporn
The Nation

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Acquires CTH shares; denies move politically motivated

Wichai Thongtang, a former lawyer of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in partnership with a Thai Rath executive, has leapt into the cable-TV business by acquiring Cable Thai Holding (CTH) shares, aiming to cash in on the company’s growth prospects.

He denied that his entry to the arena was politically motivated, insisting that he had no plan to use the cable-TV operator’s subscriber base to create a political base for any specific colour.
“My decision to jump in is purely based on the business model and the return of investment,” he added.
Wichai was on the Thaksin defence team that helped the then-prime minister win his assets-concealment case before the Constitution Court in 2001. 
He is also chairman of Prasit Patana, the operator of Phayathai Hospital.
He has bought CTH shares in association with Vachara Vacharapol, chief executive officer of Trend VG3, a subsidiary of Vacharapol, which publishes the Thai Rath daily newspaper. 
Wichai asked Vachara to join him in the venture.
As part of their move into the business, Wichai acquired 25 per cent of the shares in CTH, which comprises about 200 cable-TV operator members, while Vachara acquired another 25 per cent on his own behalf. 
CTH has also raised its capital to Bt1 billion from about Bt300 million, with the new funding being injected into the company by the two new partners in accordance with their shareholding proportions.
Like Wichai, Vachara said his entry to CTH had nothing to do with politics.
Another 30 per cent of CTH is owned by the business’s 200 members. Meanwhile, CTH is wooing other investors to secure the remaining 20 per cent of the company’s stock.
The company announced the partnership with Wichai and Vachara yesterday. GMM Grammy chairman Paiboon Damrongchaitham attended the event and announced an interest in becoming another CTH partner. 
He said Wichai had approached him about joining the venture.
Paiboon said he had asked a financial adviser to study whether he should invest in the company. The study is expected to be finalised in the next few months.
He added that partnering with CTH would not affect the GMM subsidiary GMM Z, which provides satellite-TV content, set-top boxes and home shopping services.
CTH was jointly founded by cable-TV operators many years ago to raise funds for importing foreign content on a cost-sharing basis. It has also mobilised funds to facilitate cable-TV expansion. 
The company in expanding its fibre-optic infrastructure network across the country, a project that should be completed in three years. 
The advanced fibre-optic cable network will allow cable-TV operators to offer a wide range of services through cable lines, including providing Web-based services such as Internet protocol television (iPTV) on top of improved-definition programmes.
Wichai said CTH would invest Bt5 billion this year on this network expansion and related technology, of which Bt1 billion will be from its own cash and Bt4 billion from loans and suppliers’ credits. 
CTH has set an investment budget of Bt20 billion for the period 2012 to 2016, he added.
CTH’s members currently have a combined subscriber base of about 3.5 million, which is expected to reach 7 million in the next four years. 
The company will break even on the planned investment if it can boost the subscriber base to 7 million, he said, adding that also has eyes on CTH being listed in the stock market.
Wichai also said Thai cable-TV operators should team up to bid jointly for broadcasting rights to English Premier League soccer matches from 2013 to 2016, instead of competing with one another in bidding for the rights. He is willing to be the coordinator for CTH members in bidding for such a broadcasting licence.
Many companies, including GMM and TrueVisions, are eager to bid for such broadcasting rights.