The Ting Hsin International Group (頂新國際集團), a Taiwanese process foods conglomerate, has agreed to acquire cable TV operator China Network Systems Co. (中嘉網路, CNS) for approximately NT$67 billion (US$2.24 billion) from private equity fund MBK Partners Ltd. In 2012, CNS was negotiating a sale to another food conglomerate, the Want Want Group (旺旺集團), but the deal was not approved by the National Communications Commission (NCC) after mass protests.
Ting Hsin International owns several brands of processed foods, including Master Kong (康師傅), one of the first instant ramen brands in China that become widely successful, with more than 50% of the overall instant noodle market share. Master Kong has moved into beverages, and competes directly with other Taiwanese food manufacturers Want Want and Uni-President in China.
Similar to the Want Want Group, Ting Hsin has also in recent years entered the media and telecom market, with its own line of smartphones called the INHON and a wireless service provider called Taiwan Star Telecom.
The Want Want Group has landed itself in a series of controversy beginning with its purchase of one of four major Taiwan daily newspapers, the China Times, in 2008. Since the purchase, many of China Times’s editorial and staff journalists have left, citing a move by management towards a more pro-China stance. The Want Want Group has also since then acquired CTI TV and China Television, two major TV channels.
In 2012, Want Want Group founder and president Tsai Eng-ming was interviewed by the Washington Post and said publicly that “not that many people died during the Tiananmen Incident.” The same year, the Want Want Group planned to acquire the cable distributor CNS for more than NT$70 billion, which drew criticism from legal scholar Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) as a “harmful media monopoly under China’s influence.” In July of 2012, student groups from across Taiwan formed the Anti Media Monopoly Youth Alliance to protest against Want Want Group’s acquisition of CNS, and amongst the student activists were many students instrumental in the Sunflower Movement this year, including Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) and Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆). Eventually the deal was called off after the NCC, Taiwan’s telecom regulatory body, conditioned the approval of the deal on China Television reorganize its news division.
Compared to Want Want Group’s failed acquisition, Ting Hsin’s deal has received much less scrutiny by civil groups, even though Ting Hsin also has extensive business interests and market share in China. However, unlike Want Want, Ting Hsin’s media holdings are not original content producers, and it has not been as vocal about its political stance as the Want Want Group.
According to Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission, CNS is one of Taiwan’s leading cable operators and has a market share of about 23 percent, with 1.185 million subscribers. The deal will more than double the current owner MBK Partners’ price of NT$30.9 billion when it bought CNS in 2006. The deal, however, still requires approval by the NCC.
(Feature photo of 2012 Anti Media Monopoly Protests, by Rick Chung on Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 2.0)