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Disney merges India media business with Reliance venture in $8.5 billion deal

Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

After weathering significant streaming losses, Walt Disney Co. is combining its India business with a venture owned by top local conglomerate Reliance Industries.

The companies announced Wednesday that they will merge their TV and streaming media assets into a joint venture.

The deal combines the businesses Reliance-backed Viacom18 and Disney's Star India. Reliance is investing $1.4 billion for a 63% interest in the joint venture. Disney will own the rest. The deal values the new joint venture at $8.5 billion, according to the companies.

"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," Walt Disney Co. 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."

It's one of several big moves that Iger has made to right the Disney ship since retaking the helm in November 2022. Iger is facing a proxy contest from activist investors, including billionaire Nelson Peltz, who is seeking a board seat at the company's annual shareholder meeting on April 3.

Disney's India streaming operation has posted significant losses. The company took over the Indian streaming service Hotstar in 2019 as part of its $71-billion deal to acquire the assets of 21st Century Fox.

Hotstar has been losing subscribers since Reliance poached the streaming media rights of Indian Premier League cricket while Bob Chapek was Disney's chief executive. The decision to not overpay for cricket streaming rights was framed as a cost-conscious move at the time, but it caused Disney to lose significant ground in the market.

 

The joint venture will put the TV and digital streaming platforms for entertainment and sports content under one roof, reaching more than 750 million viewers across India.

The combined entity will have exclusive rights to distribute Disney films and productions in India.

Nita M. Ambani, the wife of Reliance chair and billionaire Mukesh Ambani, will be the chairperson of the venture. Former Disney executive Uday Shankar, who had joined Viacom18, will serve as vice chairperson "providing strategic guidance to the JV," the companies said.

The transaction is subject to regulatory, shareholder and other customary approvals and is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2024 or first quarter of 2025.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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