Reliance Industries, led by Asia’s wealthiest individual, Mukesh Ambani, is on the verge of striking a deal to acquire Walt Disney Co.’s operations in India, say sources close to the matter.
Disney is looking to sell or find a partner for its business in India, and has been in talks with big names like Gautam Adani, Kalanithi Maran, who owns Sun TV Network, and the private investment firm Blackstone.
However, according to Bloomberg, Disney is considering selling a major part of its Disney Star business in India, valued at around $10 billion, to Reliance. However, Reliance values the business between $7 billion to $8 billion.
Disney’s India business comprises the Disney+ Hotstar streaming service and Star India. Meanwhile, Ambani’s media streaming service by Reliance is called JioCinema.
The deal, which could be a mix of cash and stock, might be announced as soon as next month. Post-deal, some of Reliance’s media segments may merge with Disney Star, although exact details are not provided.
According to the proposal, Disney might retain a small part of the business in India even after the deal. However, nothing is finalized yet, and Disney might decide to hold onto its assets for a little longer.
Disney didn’t comment on the matter, and a spokesperson for Reliance also chose not to comment.
Ambani and Disney’s Rivalry in Indian Entertainment and Sports Broadcasting
This potential deal highlights Ambani’s growing influence in India’s entertainment scene. In April, Reliance secured a deal to air Warner Bros Discovery Inc.’s HBO shows in India, content previously held by Disney.
Furthermore, in August, Ambani outbid Disney to acquire rights to televise and livestream the national team’s cricket matches for $721.41 million, further amplifying JioCinema’s popularity.
As a result, Disney+ Hotstar lost many subscribers, dropping from 61 million in October 2022 to about 40 million by July 2023, mainly because they lost the rights to stream some cricket matches.
However, while Ambani snagged the rights to broadcast all bilateral matches of the Indian cricket team, Disney+ Hotstar won the media rights for the International Cricket Council’s tournaments in India. Therefore, Disney provided free live streaming of the Asia Cup and the ICC Cricket World Cup on smartphones.
As a result, Disney’s streaming platform in India witnessed a record 43 million viewers for a recent Cricket World Cup 2023 match between India and New Zealand on 22 October 2023, indicating a strong viewer base in cricket-loving India. Disney+ Hotstar head Sajith Sivanandan had this to say:
We want to thank our users who flocked to Disney+ Hotstar for the thrilling game between India vs. New Zealand, and helped us reset the world record for concurrent viewers for a live streaming event. We served 43 million concurrent viewers at its peak during the match – a historical high that easily surpasses the 35 million previously set for the India vs. Pakistan match in the same tournament.