Disney-Reliance Merger Secures Streaming Win, Cricket Rights

The merger between US media giant Walt Disney Co. and India’s largest conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) is set to build a media powerhouse that would further the plans of RIL Chairman and Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani for streaming tech competency and valuable cricket rights.

Disney announced on Wednesday that it would team up with RIL to combine their TV and streaming media assets in the country, tying the Indian firm’s Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd. to its local unit Star India Pvt. Ltd. (SIPL) to create a new Star India joint entity worth about $8.5 billion.

RIL will control 63% of the venture, while the Burbank-based company will control 37%.

Ambani also intends to invest $1.4 billion into the new group’s growth strategy, while his wife, Nita Ambani, will likely be appointed chairperson.

TV, Streaming Prowess and Cricket Enthusiasm

Disney and RIL’s media union is expected to gain 85% of India’s on-demand streaming service audience and around half of TV viewers, further intensifying competition for Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video, Sony Group Corp., and Zee Entertainment Enterprises.

The tie-up, set to conclude by March 2025, will see the creation of the country’s top TV player that manages 120 channels and two streaming platforms, placing Zee in second with 50 channels at its home media and entertainment market that holds a value of $28 billion.

The joint venture would also provide exclusive digital and broadcast rights to cricket competitions, including the Indian Premier League (IPL), Cricket World Cup, and flagship International Cricket Council’s (ICC) events.

Cricket streaming has become critical in gaining new users for streaming platforms in India. With Disney and Reliance obtaining the rights, rivals’ content options to attract an audience are curbed.

Being the no. 1 sport in India, it was reported that companies would have to pay up to $29,000 for a 10-second ad slot in major cricket tournaments. The amount was significantly more than the TV ad rates during football matches in the country, which is approximately $3,000, according to reports.

Analysts estimated the Disney-RIL cricketing rights at a 40% ad market share, surpassing Sony and Zee.

In addition to key cricket events, the new unit would have exclusive India access to Disney’s movies and productions and its broad content selection.

Partnering with Disney marks a significant victory for Ambani. Still, analysts said competing against the digital advertising prowess of Alphabet Inc.’s Google LLC and Meta Platforms Inc. will be tough.

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