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Reliance and Disney to merge media assets in India

Reliance, its portfolio Viacom18 and Disney are merging their media businesses in India, creating the largest media conglomerate in the South Asian market. Reliance will control and own 16.34% of the joint venture, which it has valued at $8.5 billion. Disney will own 36.84% stake in the merged entity whereas Reliance-backed Viacom18, which also counts Paramount Global among its backers, will own 46.82% stake, the companies said.

Reliance, which is India’s most valuable firm, said it sees an opportunity to expand and streamline its presence in the Indian fast-growing market by merging its media assets with Disney India. Reliance, which owns more than 60% in Viacom18, plans to invest $1.4 billion into the joint venture for its growth strategy.

The “strategic” merger of Reliance and Disney India also unites two leading Indian streamers, JioCinema and Disney+Hotstar. The joint venture will include access to dozens of TV channels that Disney owns as well as have exclusive rights to Disney’s movies and other productions in India as well as the mouse company’s 30,000 additional assets.

The merger gives Reliance dominance in sports and entertainment, bolstered by Jio’s recent sports rights acquisition from Disney/Star. The combined unit will reach over 750 million viewers across India, the firms said. The firms have

“This is a landmark agreement that heralds a new era in the Indian entertainment industry,” said Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, in a statement.

“We have always respected Disney as the best media group globally and are very excited at forming this strategic joint venture that will help us pool our extensive resources, creative prowess, and market insights to deliver unparalleled content at affordable prices to audiences across the nation. We welcome Disney as a key partner of Reliance group.”

The merger comes as Disney’s Hotstar has faced fierce competition from JioCinema, which lured top Disney talent last year to boost its platform. Viacom18 also outbid Disney’s $3 billion for five-year streaming rights to India’s popular cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, breaking many of Hotstar’s past viewing records in just one year. (Disney paid the same amount for the TV rights.)

“India is the world’s most populous market, and we are excited for the opportunities that this joint venture will provide to create long-term value for the company,” Disney chief executive Bob Iger said in a statement.

“Reliance has a deep understanding of the Indian market and consumer, and together we will create one of the country’s leading media companies, allowing us to better serve consumers with a broad portfolio of digital services and entertainment and sports content.”

The merger also reunites former Star India CEO Uday Shankar and James Murdoch with the business they previously built for a decade – Shankar departed Star India after 2020 disputes with Disney, then he and Murdoch launched Bodhi Tree, an India media investment vehicle backed by $1.7 billion from Qatar Investment Authority which invested over $500 million in Viacom18. Shankar now returns as vice chair of the merged entity’s board.

The merger is subject to regulatory and shareholder approval and the two firms expect it to complete by the end of March 2025.

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