Disney plans $8.5bn merger for ailing India unit

It is combining forces with Reliance Industries, owned by Mukesh Ambani – Asia’s richest man.
Disney plans $8.5bn merger for ailing India unit
Mickey Mouse celebrated his 80th birthday at Girgaum Chowpatty wearing Indian traditional dress in Mumbai in 2008Getty Images

Disney is combining forces with Asia’s richest man in a bid to solve challenges weighing down its streaming business in India.

The company said it was merging its Star India service with Viacom18, which is backed by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, in a deal worth $8.5bn.

Reliance will lead the new business, which is poised to be one of the biggest media forces in India.

It has pledged to inject $1.4bn (£1.1bn) to help the firm grow.

Mr Ambani, who built his fortune in the chemical and oil industries and is now worth more than $100bn according to Forbes, called it a “landmark agreement that heralds a new era in the Indian entertainment industry”.

The companies said they expected the deal, which needs approval from regulators to proceed, to be completed at the end of this year or early next year.

The combined firm would boast more than 120 channels, serving some 750 million customers across the country.

Viacom18, which was created in 2007 as a partnership between Reliance and Paramount, currently runs about 40 channels including MTV, Nickelodeon and the Hindi-language Colors, as well as the JioCinema streaming service.

It has been challenging Disney’s Star business in India, which the company inherited when it purchased a chunk of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire in 2019.

Mukesh and Nita Ambani

Gettty Images

In 2022, Reliance outbid Disney for rights to stream the popular India Premier League cricket tournament, sparking a sizable fall in subscribers to Disney’s Hotstar streaming service.

The company’s Star sports channels also reported declines in subscribers and advertisers in the 12 months to September 2023.

Disney boss Bob Iger said the joint venture would keep Disney present in the large Indian market while benefiting from Reliance’s “deep understanding of the Indian market and consumer”.

But the deal values Star India at less than a third of what it was in 2019 when Disney took on the business, sources told the Reuters news agency.

Disney will own a roughly 37% stake in the joint venture, which will have exclusive rights to distribute Disney’s films and productions in India.

Viacom18 will hold a roughly 47% share, and Reliance another 16%.

India has emerged as a key battleground in the streaming business, as giants such as Netflix and Amazon invest heavily to try to seize part of what is seen as a rapidly growing market.

Nita Ambani, Mr Ambani’s wife, will serve as chairperson of the new company.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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