Mobile operator MTS mulling buying "the Russian Netflix," online cinema provider ivi

Mobile operator MTS mulling buying
Russia's ivi is the leading online providers of movies / wiki
By bne IntelliNews April 9, 2019

One of Russia's "big four" operators MobileTeleSystems (MTS) is considering the acquisition of “the Russian Netflix,” online cinema provider ivi, the market leader with a 36% share, for RUB20bn ($309mn), RBC business portal reported on April 8 citing unnamed sources.

The news confirm that the "rush to create the Russian Netflix has intensified", Sberbank CIB commented on April 9, reminding that internet major Yandex has also expanded the portfolio of its video content services.

Since its launch in 2009, (known just as “Ivy” in Russia) rapidly became the nation's premier site for legally watching movies. Revenues doubled every year and the company is widely seen as a candidates for a eventual billion-dollar IPO in the not too distant future.

"We are positioned in the movie business and closer to Netflix than [US online TV broadcaster] Hulu, but we also have some TV shows, music and a kids' portal. But movies is our main thing," Oleg Tumanov, CEO and chairman of, said in a rare and exclusive interview with bne IntelliNews in 2013.

The company has come on by leaps and bounds since then. ivi posted 62% year-on-year increase in revenues to RUB3.94bn in 2018, outgrowing a market that expanded by 45%. 70% of ivi’s revenue comes from user payments, which is the top growing category for the company boasting 87% y/y gain, with the remainder being mostly ad revenue. 

For MTS, ivi could be a valuable addition to its non-mobile portfolio of services, continuing non-core acquisitions such as ticket services and, Sberbank believes.

The ivi deal "would be in line with MTS's strategy for strengthening its expertise in adjacent areas via acquisitions," BCS Global Markets agrees, seeing the RUB20bn price tag suggesting 5x 2018 revenue as reasonable.

At the same time, the deal could pressure MTS's free cash flow, Sberbank warns, reminding of a similar pattern already seen as a result of the operator's M&A activity in 2018.

MTS posted strong revenue growth under IFRS in the fourth quarter of 2018, with the top line, earnings, and bottom line all coming in above the consensus expectations. The company managed to maintain the mobile service revenue in Russia at growth, despite facing full quarter of intra-country roaming cancellatio, and reiterated an attractive dividend guidance.

Russia’s media market in general is growing fast, driven by the burgeoning e-commerce sector. The media market expanded by 12% y/y to RUB468.7bn in 2018, according to estimates from the Association of Russian Advertisers (AKAR), VTB Capital (VTBC) said in a note on March 11.

AKAR has revised its approach to presenting Russian media market estimates. As many media market players distribute their content via different mediums (for example, major publishing houses distribute content via both print and online versions), AKAR has decided to break down the market estimates by content type.

According to AKAR’s new approach, the internet services segment showed the fastest growth (+22% y/y) in FY18 (out of the major segments) and accounted for 38% of the market (vs. 35% in 2017). Traditional TV was up 9% y/y in FY18 (there was a deceleration in 4Q18 from the 12% y/y growth in 9mo18), with its share declining to 40% of the advertising budget, from 41% a year ago.