Despite investor enthusiasm, many of the foreign TV stocks have proved to be poor investments so far. Stock of French digital satellite TV service Group AB (NYSE: ABG) is off sharply from its initial public offering price in December, as it trails two larger competitors in the digital satellite TV business at home. Currently, Group AB trades at about $5.38 a share, down from its $21 IPO price in December 1996.
Elsewhere, APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. (NYSE: ATS), a Hong Kong-based satellite TV outfit developing a digital satellite TV service for the vast but underdeveloped China TV market, has traded between $11 and $12 a share, down from its December 1996 IPO price of $14 a share.
APT Satellite points out in SEC filings that four of its corporate investors--owning 42.8% of the company--are People's Republic of China government affiliates, giving it "unique opportunities" to do business with Beijing. However, its use of some misfire-prone Chinese rockets to launch satellites and questions about its rights to crucial orbital satellite TV slots have dogged the stock, analysts say.
"There are an awful lot of analysts on Wall Street who don't understand the [satellite] market on both the U.S. and worldwide level," said Carmel-based direct broadcast satellite researcher Jimmy Schaeffler. "They're simply overwhelmed" by the array of ventures sprouting across the globe.
Certainly, Wall Street hasn't showered money on every aspirant. Thailand-based Asia Broadcasting & Communications Network Ltd. was in advanced stages of mounting a $300-million U.S. debt offering earlier this year that was to trade on the Nasdaq market, but the deal was dropped for lack of investor demand.
That was even before Southeast Asia was rattled by a currency crisis.
Looking ahead, more private foreign TV companies are known to be contemplating IPOs that may involve a Wall Street listing. They include European satellite service giant Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES); Media Most, the parent of Russia's top-ranked private commercial network NTV; Canadian cable system operator Shaw Communications; Spain's second-ranked private network Tele Cinco; and Asia Today, which operates satellite TV channels in India and is 50% owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
Besides raising funding, a U.S. listing is seen as a trapping of legitimacy, said an executive of one U.S.-listed Israeli TV company. "The fact that we are listed on the Nasdaq is a kind of seal of approval" that impresses potential joint venture partners, said Robert Avi-Tal, president and chief executive of Matav-Cable Systems Media Ltd., which owns a quarter of Israel's cable TV systems and whose stock is traded both in Israel and the U.S. "Everyone looks at you more favorably."