BIGGEST STORIES OF 2012
Cable Thai Holding (CTH), the newly founded cable TV operator, made headlines in 2012 after Wichai Thongtang, the veteran investor, revealed in April that he had teamed up with Vachara Vacharaphol, the chief executive of Trend VG3, to take a 25% stake each in CTH.
Mr Vachara is the third generation of the family that owns Thai Rath Thai-language daily, the biggest newspaper in Thailand.
CTH spent 5 billion baht this year to upgrade to digital, enabling local cable TV to provide web-based content and video on demand. The company will invest up to 20 billion baht total from 2012-16.
What took onlookers aback was not Mr Wichai and the company's lofty investment plan but rather when CTH sprung a surprise: snatching the broadcast rights for English Premier League (EPL) football in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for the next three seasons (2013-14 to 2015-16).
- REFLECTIONS: 2012 and beyond
CTH beat TrueVisions, GMM Grammy, RS and Channel 7. The bidding price remains confidential, but a source estimates the offering by CTH was "incredibly high" _ possibly US$300 million.
That is five times what TrueVisions, the current EPL rights holder, paid for the previous three seasons ending this past May.
With the EPL broadcast rights in hand, CTH expects cable TV subscriptions to double to 7 million households nationwide over the next three years. The firm sees EPL football as an avenue for becoming the ruling pay-TV broadcaster, overtaking market leader TrueVisions.
The company acknowledges it will probably stay more than 100 million baht in the red for another year but expects to break even from the EPL investment in three years.
Charoen pursues F&N deal
The attempt by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to acquire Fraser and Neave (F&N) Ltd in Singapore became a rough journey for him to take control of the leading beverage and property conglomerate.
Half a year later, the race to buy F&N has yet to wind down. It is a bidding saga for Mr Charoen, who offered US$7.3 billion to buy F&N, as he is facing heavy competition from Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE).
Mr Charoen's offer of S$8.8 a share will expire next Wednesday, and OUE, which topped his bid with S$9.08, will close its tender on Thursday.
Through Thai Beverage Plc, the brewer of Chang beer, Mr Charoen is now the biggest shareholder in F&N with 34%.
OUE has enlisted Kirin Holdings, Japan's biggest drinks maker and F&N's second-largest shareholder, in its bid.
OUE would get F&N's property business, while Kirin would take the food and beverage unit.
Kirin, which has a 14.8% stake in F&N, has agreed to tender its shares and will not accept any competing bid, says OUE, a property affiliate of Indonesia's Lippo Group.
The Japanese brewer will offer S$2.7 billion (67.7 billion baht) for F&N's food and drinks business if OUE wins enough support to complete the takeover.
F&N has said it is committed to paying the OUE consortium a break-up fee of as much as S$50 million if a competing offer is successful.
Both sides want at least a 50% stake to take control of F&N. Investors expect a bidding war from the two contenders after the conglomerate's independent directors described both offers as "not compelling" but "fair".
Mr Charoen, 68, hopes the F&N purchase will expand his business in Asia. He began buying F&N shares in July at the same time Heineken bid to acquire F&N's beer unit, the brewer of Tiger.
Mr Charoen initially offered to buy some stakes in the Tiger beer business but decided to back off and concentrate on F&N.
The takeover game will continue into 2013, with both sides working hard behind the scenes to seal the deal.
Outcry over 3G endgame
The long-running saga of the third-generation (3G) spectrum auction dominated headlines and online conversation in 2012 as a result of the contentious ending of the auction game.
There was a lot of negative comment about the results of the 3G auction. Critics slammed the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) for organising an auction they called "cheap and ridiculous" and causing a great loss of national revenue. The three bidders _ AIS, DTAC and True Move _ each won their maximum quota of 15 megahertz of bandwidth for only 2.78% above the reserve price.
Several state agencies investigated the process and outcome of the auction. While some authorities found no irregularities, the Office of the Ombudsman decided to file a petition against the 3G auction with the Administrative Court, asking it to issue an injunction to suspend the NBTC's process of granting licences to the three bidders.
But the court dismissed the petition of the Ombudsman on grounds the authority was not directly damaged by the NBTC's actions through the 3G auction.
As a consequence, the NBTC on Dec 11 issued 15-year licences for the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum, the international standard for 3G mobile voice and internet services, to the big three operators.
The Thai telecom industry in 2013 looks set for accelerated change at the hands of 3G technological advancements after the country has been bombarded with 3G advertising for years.
The NBTC now gets another chance to prove itself by pressing operators to cap user fees and keep charges to a minimum. This could return benefits to Thai consumers in exchange for lost revenue for the government and the great gains obtained by the 3G operators.
Rocky start for Dawei
The most talked-about venture of high-profile Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) in the past year was the Dawei project in Myanmar.
Coming at a time when the formerly military-ruled neighbouring country is opening up, Dawei was even cited by some as the project that could change Myanmar's future.
On the Thai side, the massive project is expected to pave the way for Thai companies to establish a foothold in Myanmar by strengthening cooperation between the two governments.
ITD, Thailand's biggest construction company by market value, was granted a 75-year concession to develop a special economic zone and deep-sea port in Dawei, eastern Myanmar.
The project is estimated at US$8.5 billion for the infrastructure in the first phase including roads and port. When heavy industry programmes such as oil refineries and integrated steel mills are included, the cost goes up to $50 billion.
Covering 200,000 rai in area, Dawei is one of three special economic zones being developed in Myanmar, along with the Thilawa and Kyauk Phyu projects. Given the unclear development plan to date, potential investors seem to be shying away from Dawei. Japan especially has shifted its focus to Thilawa, close to Yangon, while Kyauk Phyu in northern Myanmar is sponsored by China.
Financial concerns centre on the massive investment cost and lack of investment partners. There have been repeated calls for the Thai government to invest in Dawei so that the project can get off the ground.
Cooperation between both governments to push Dawei forward was once again strengthened when Myanmar cabinet members visited Thailand in November and the two parties agreed to set up six committees to discuss fund-raising and an April 2013 kick-off to construction.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Myanmar President Thein Sein made an official visit to Dawei in mid-December.
The Thai government earlier agreed to set up a holding company or special-purpose vehicle to handle investment in Dawei, with 50 billion baht to be mobilised for the effort.
Serm Suk's est cola fizzes up market
The historic divorce of Serm Suk Plc and Pepsi Co Inc on Nov 1 ended their 58-year relationship in Thailand's soft drinks business, a break-up many found hard to believe.
Both sides made efforts to continue their bottling alliance, but this failed due to differences over concentrate prices and Pepsi banning the Thai bottler from producing soft drinks.
However, the end of the bottling and distribution contract with the US beverage giant inspired Serm Suk to come up with "est", a Thai-created cola brand, to replace the loss of Pepsi, the market leader in Thailand.
Est became the talk-of-the-town drink as people wanted to try a sip.
Serm Suk now has whisky tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi as its major shareholder.
The emergence of est has changed the landscape of Thailand's 43-billion-baht carbonated drinks industry, which has long been dominated by two major brands - Coke and Pepsi.
Est got solid support from over 200,000 retailers nationwide, raising awareness among consumers very quickly. It got off to a cracking start with a remarkable sales performance of 1 billion baht in just six weeks.
Serm Suk aims to generate 8 billion baht in est sales in the first year of operation - well within reach.
One of the factors in est's success is the fact that it is sold in glass bottles, which contributes the largest sales proportion for carbonated drinks here.
Pepsi is not available in glass bottles.
Coca-Cola(Thailand), the trademark owner of Coke, Fanta and Sprite, got a windfall from the Serm Suk-Pepsi split.
With est just launched and Pepsi lacking supply, Coca-Cola has taken the lead in the country's soft drinks industry, and the momentum looks set to continue for a while.