Reliance-owned Viacom18 set to acquire 60% stake in Disney India for $3.9Bn: Report

It seems Disney India’s acquisition with Mukesh Ambani-owned Viacom 18 is finally coming in to fruition. Viacom 18, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and a venture between Reliance Industries, Paramount Global and James Murdoch’s Bodhi Tree Systems, is set to acquire a commanding stake of 60% in Disney’s India business. The deal, valued at $3.9 billion (₹33,000 crore), represents a move that could reshape the dynamics of the sector, and is expected to be finalized by the end of this month.

This reported acquisition comes at a time when Viacom18 looks to fortify its position in the highly competitive Indian media landscape. With the impending deal, Viacom18, backed by RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani, aims to secure a substantial foothold in Disney’s India unit, a move that comes on the heels of extensive negotiations between Reliance Industries and Walt Disney. As per the reported agreement, Disney will retain a 40% ownership stake in its India unit, while Viacom18, backed by RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani, will secure a controlling 51% stake. Additionally, Bodhi Tree Systems, co-owned by James Murdoch and former Star India executive Uday Shankar, will hold a stake of 9%.

The multi-billion-dollar valuation of Disney’s India unit, a notable adjustment from earlier estimations, comes after initial reports in October suggested a valuation ranging from $7 billion to $8 billion, while Disney assessed its operations at $10 billion during the same period. The financial dynamics extend beyond the immediate transaction, with both Viacom18 and Disney Star positioning themselves for a competitive stance in the advertising rights arena for the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024. While Disney Star has outlined specific advertising rates for its sports channels, Viacom18, streaming IPL matches on JioCinema for free, is said to have maintained unchanged rates. JioCinema recently clocked a record 32 million concurrent viewers in May during the IPL 2023 final, which was won by Chennai Super Kings (CSK) by 5 wickets.

As per the reported agreement, Disney will retain a significant 40% ownership stake in its India unit, ceding operational control to Viacom18. Reliance is poised to acquire a controlling 51% stake, and Bodhi Tree Systems, co-owned by James Murdoch and former Star India executive Uday Shankar, will hold a noteworthy 9% stake. The consolidated ownership structure anticipates the merged entity, Star-Viacom18, holding a combined market share exceeding 40% – something that is set to usher in a new era of competitiveness in both television and digital domains. Currently, the agreement is subject to regulatory approvals, and is likely to close this month.