Independent's cable TV firm Chorus loses €36.6m

 

Chorus Communications, the second largest cable television company in the Republic, lost €36.6 million last year. The figure was disclosed in the annual report and accounts of Independent News & Media (INM) which was released over the bank holiday weekend.

INM owns 50 per cent of Chorus which has the cable television franchises for Limerick, Cork and Dublin hinterland. Chorus said yesterday that the figure quoted in the INM report represented the loss before interest and depreciation charges. It declined to state the loss after interest on its €360 million of debt. A spokesman described the losses as "in line with the investment phase of our roll-out plan".

The only other figures disclosed in the INM report were the called-up share capital of CCL which stood at €22.9 million and the company's reserves which are in deficit to the tune of €2.5 million.

Chorus has not filed any accounts with the Companies Office since 1998 - when it was called Princes Holdings - which makes meaningful comparisons impossible. The company said yesterday that it planned to file its 1999 and 2000 accounts this week.

The INM accounts show that it now values its 50 per cent interest in CCL at €67.9 million following a decision to write €15 million off the value of its stake. This values the entire group at €135.8 million.

"There has been considerable restructuring and consolidation in the European and digital television industry in 2000 and 2001 to date. Consequently there is inevitable significant uncertainty as to the valuation of the Group's interest," according to the INM annual report.

The remaining 50 per cent of Chorus is held by Liberty Media, the US communications group. In its annual report INM said that it no longer treats CCL as a joint venture in its accounts because "the group no longer intends to hold the investment for the long term and accordingly does not exercise significant influence".

As a consequence INM is not obliged to consolidate its share of CCL's losses into its accounts. Doing so would have made a considerable dint in the newspaper group's after-tax profits of €38 million.

INM's decision to treat CCL as an investment rather than a joint venture also deals with potential conflicts of interest raised by the involvement of the INM executive chairman, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, in Eircom. Sir Anthony - who has a controlling 27 per cent stake in INM - is also non-executive chairman of Eircom in which he holds around 5 per cent of the equity.

Eircom and CCL are potential rivals. CCL has over 264,000 subscribers of which just over half are cable customers with the rest microwave customers.

The firm has plans to upgrade its entire network to carry digital signals and offer bundled digital television, internet and telephony services. With over 60 per cent of the homes in the Republic within its licensed areas CCL could pose a challenge to Eircom.