April 20, 2024

The Walt Disney Co. has inked a deal with Reliance Industries, India’s largest conglomerate, to merge their media assets, creating a $8.5 billion entertainment juggernaut.

The merger will establish a joint venture combining Disney’s Star India with Viacom18, which is itself a joint venture between Mumbai-based Reliance and Paramount Global.

The new venture — Star India Private Limited — will be controlled by Reliance, with its affiliates holding a collective 63% stake, while Disney will own the rest.

Mukesh Ambani, Reliance’s founder and one of the wealthiest people in India, will inject $1.4 billion into the new entity. Reliance chair Nita Ambani, an Indian philanthropist and Mukesh Ambani’s wife, will lead the new joint venture.

If the deal is approved by regulators, the transaction is expected to close in late 2024 or early 2025.

Star India Private Limited will have 120 TV channels and two streaming platforms. The entity will also have exclusive rights to distribute and produce Disney’s films in India. It’s expected to reach over 750 million viewers across India and “cater to the Indian diaspora across the world,” the companies said in a joint statement.

“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 CEO Bob Iger said in a statement.

Burbank, Calif.-based Disney, which acquired Star India through its $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2017, has struggled to create growth in India. The U.S. entertainment giant was hit hard when it lost the right to stream the incredibly popular Indian Premier League cricket matches to JioCinema, a streaming platform owned by Viacom18.

During a call with investors after Disney announced its fourth-quarter earnings last November, Iger admitted that parts of its business in India “are challenged for us.”

Hotstar, Disney’s Indian streaming service, has shed millions of subscribers since it lost the IPL streaming rights; that loss was exacerbated last March, when Warner Bros. Discovery moved its content — including shows like Game of Thrones and Succession — to JioCinema.

Disney stock climbed 1% shortly after the merger was announced.

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