Media and entertainment conglomerate Network18 Media and Investments Ltd has denied reports of a sale of its news assets to The Times Group.

A statement from the company’s legal department said the Bloomberg report was ‘false and malicious’. An email query to the Times Group remained unanswered.

The Bloomberg report said Bennett Coleman and Co., or Times Group, is looking to hire advisers for due diligence on the news properties of the Mukesh Ambani-owned company, where options range from an outright exit to a stake sale. Talks, however, may not translate into a deal, as more suitors may emerge, it added.

The report about a possible sale of Network18’s news assets came a week after media reports said that Japanese conglomerate Sony Corp. was looking to buy the former’s entertainment division, which includes movie, music and comedy channels.

Bloomberg had reported that the Tokyo-based company was in the process of carrying out due diligence on Network18 Media and Investments Ltd before making an offer. Sony was said to be considering several deal structures, including a bid for the company or a merger of its Indian business with Network18’s entertainment channels, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity.

The move was said to be driven by Sony’s ambitions to tap into the growing demand for content in the south Asian market and to take on rivals such as streaming platform Netflix, while giving Ambani’s company access to international content.

Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd has spent almost $50 billion on its network to disrupt and change India’s telecom industry with cheap data packs and has been luring users with local and overseas content, the report said.

Bloomberg said that Network18 reported a loss of 178 crore in 2018-19, while its net debt stood at 2,800 crore.

Network18, which was acquired by RIL in 2014, includes media and internet-based media outlets, such as News18.com, moneycontrol.com, Firstpost.com, CricketNext, print magazines such as Forbes India and Overdrive, besides TV channels in partnership with international media groups such as NBC, CNN and MTV.

Hindustan Times and Mint, published by HT Media, compete with Times Group and Network18 in several markets.

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