TAIPEI— Taiwan’s Next Media group is known worldwide for its racy animated graphics, but the company drew scrutiny last year when a group of buyers with ties to China proposed buying most of the group’s media assets. The deal raised fears that China would try to control the island’s free media.
Next Media expected to sell its daily newspaper, TV operation and two magazines for $586 million. But on Wednesday the buyers' consortium declined to extend a deadline for completing the sale. Next Media says the deal is cancelled and assets are no longer for sale.
Next Media Commercial Director Mark Simon declines to say why the buyers pulled out but says it was not for political reasons. He says the media group is now off the market.
"The thing is they pulled out." he said. "It’s kind of a done deal. It’s a done story now. The investment bankers are coming over and have this deal for you and this and that. Everyone is trying to make a buck off of us. If you are going to put the company up again, you’re shopping around, all the employees are getting upset, everybody’s sitting there and you drive down the value."
Next Media says it had lost more than $200 million on its Taiwan television station after branching out from its head office in Hong Kong to the island in 2003. The organization run by Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai lost money in part by giving away set-top receiver boxes. The company also says Taiwan regulations had stopped it from expanding its television services.
But the company’s Apple Daily newspaper, which has the widest daily circulation in Taiwan, and its colorful magazines have earned money. Next Media’s animated graphics have made splashes worldwide. A graphic on the 2009 car crash of golf superstar Tiger Woods and a lifelike cartoon spoof of the 2012 U.S. election campaign caught attention in the United States and got Next Media mentions on American comedy shows.
In 2010, Next Media’s Internet connection reached about 15 million between Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Next Media says two members of the consortium backed out of the deal that was to close on Wednesday. One member was the head of the Want Want Group, which was to take a 32 percent share of Next Media. That group already controls several Taiwanese media outlets seen as warm toward China, where it has other business interests.
Activists and academics in Taiwan had feared that the Chinese government was behind the acquisition deal and that Taiwan’s media should not let the Beijing government get so close. They claim some credit for the cancelled sale and say that because their voices were heard, Taiwan’s legislature is looking into a bill that would ban media monopolies.
China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. Journalists on the island say that, in the past five years Beijing has sought influence over local media to tell Taiwanese about its economic strengths and lure them toward reunification.