SSL selected to lead US$3.5-M IRIE JAM private placement

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SSL selected to lead US$3.5-M IRIE JAM private placement

Funds needed for expansion in Florida, Toronto and the UK

BY DURRANT PATE
Observer business writer

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) has been selected to lead US-based, Jamaican-owned media company IRIE JAM's US$3.5-million private placement locally, as the company seeks capital to fund its expansion plans.

IRIE JAM Media broadcast to mainly Caribbean market in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. With over 25 years of existence in the media business, IRIE JAM has a platform that is fully attuned to the unique needs of the Jamaican people.

Already SSL has secured interest by a number of institutional investors such as Pulse Investments, which have publicly declared its intent in acquiring a portion of the company. Of note is the fact that Pulse Chairman Kingsley Cooper is a director in IRIE JAM.

Other local investors have given commitments to SSL about their participation in the private placement, which should have been on the market earlier but was put on hold due to COVID 19. The private placement will be for a three-year bond paying an interest rate of 8 per cent, with an option to convert to equity at the end of the term.

Speaking with the Jamaicas Observer, SSL Group CEO Zachary Harding was surprised that the interest by institutional investors has not waned with COVID-19 but might have accelerated. He states that SSL is in full support for the project as the US media group navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the global economy faces choppy waters, SSL's stance has not wavered with IRIE JAM Radio, which is one of the deals in our pipeline with the most potential, given their role in keeping the Caribbean diaspora connected,” the SSL Group CEO declared.

Referring to the upcoming private placement, Harding argues that, “This investment is a direct conduit for those who understand the value and potential of the connection between the Caribbean and our diaspora market. We are working closely with them to fine-tune and ensure their strategy speaks to how the current crisis will affect Caribbean people globally.”

IRIE JAM EXPANSION PLANS

With an expansion strategy for IRIE JAM, particularly in the digital space across Florida, Toronto and the UK, SSL is leading this latest funding option in raising equity to the tune of US$3.5 million. The private placement was initiated last year in response to the growing needs of the diaspora, with digital media continuing to grow 30 per cent per annum on average.

The funds raised will go toward a full online deployment, including plans to relaunch a mobile app and investing in content development. The company has additional plans to enter the TV space through the acquisition of a TV licence in North America.

The business has employed a multi-phased approach to financing this expansion. Phase one was a successful debt raise of US$2million from the Jamaican capital market, led by Mayberry Investments. Phase two, which is the equity tranche, being spearheaded by SSL, is now about to be rolled out.

Expansion is to be undertaken in two phases. Phase 1—Expand footprint of radio advertising, increasing revenue by 40 per cent and phase 2—Digitisation-Development and relaunch of IRIE JAM 360 app; Content Development and bundled advertising.

For expanded revenues the Jamaican-owned, US-based media group is also restructuring their advertising products into what they say are more lucrative bundles. IRIE JAM says that since the rise of COVID-19, it has shifted into a new gear, including the addition of content from local radio broadcasts as well as the relaunch of its digital platform.

GROWING MARKET

In addition to covering the New York tri-state area and Florida, IRIE JAM also covers the Atlanta and Georgia markets, which together represent some 4-6 million Jamaicans and 'Jamericans'. New York and Florida have the largest Caribbean diaspora populations with more than 4.4 million people, with UK & Canada accounting for another 260,000 and 500,000, respectively.

The broadcast group is a respected go-to source for engaging the Caribbean diaspora in the United States, with over a quarter century as a standard-bearer for Brand Jamaica. Hosting nearly three million listeners per week, IRIE JAM Radio has been the backbone of information and entertainment for Caribbean people in the tri-state area.

For his part, Bobby Clarke, founder and CEO of IRIE JAM, emphasises that SSL is the best fit for the company's current round of funding, noting that the private placement will give investors “a chance to join in the success of the Jamaican-owned global media company”. Clarke, who in 2017 received the Order of Distinction from the Government of Jamaica for over 20 years of dedicated media services to Jamaican nationals in New York Tri-state area, points out that for decades, IRIE JAM has been a crucial touchstone for Caribbean people abroad.

Stressing that vehicles like IRIE JAM maintains a critical link, not just for commerce but also for our cultural and personal connections overseas, Clarke contends that Jamaicans overseas depend on IRIE JAM to get a full picture of life back home in times like these. He says, “the sharing of content, news and entertainment, connects people to current events in the region, so we've seen a spike in our listenership over the last two months in particular.”

Commenting about IRIE JAM's expansion plans, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Keith Duncan, made the point that the media entity plays a critical role in these changing times. According to Duncan, “I am heartened at the prospects of IRIE JAM. They have become a trusted resource for interacting with the diaspora community and as they expand, Caribbean-based businesses will have a direct channel for supporting their customers in the United States and beyond. ”

In concluding, Duncan argues that “Jamaica's private sector can look towards these kinds of solutions to build vertical growth. I fully endorse this forward-thinking investment opportunity.”

With 25 years of experience in radio, live event production, and marketing and productions, IRIE JAM currently operates three services: IRIE JAM Radio (core business)—41 hours of coverage per week & 2.8M listeners, IRIE JAM 360 mobile app and Irie Jam Video Content—Marketing Campaign Solutions—bundle radio and digital media.

The company is seeking to expand operations to a larger geographical area, to allow for increased revenue, broaden regional coverage across the rest of the US and entry into the Caribbean, UK and Canadian markets, double air time coverage from its current 41 hours per week to 82 hours per week as well as solidifying potential new partnerships and acquisitions.


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