How a Reliance-Disney Star partnership might affect cricket viewing in India

By Consultants Review Team Tuesday, 19 December 2023

Money-spinning Indian cricket viewing and ad- vertising are at stake as billionaire Mukesh Am- bani's RIL allegedly nego- tiates a proposal to acquire Disney's India business, which might be the largest such transaction in the Indian entertainment in- dustry.  

For the next 4-5 years, Reliance's broadcast busi- ness Viacom18 and Disney Star hold rights to three major cricket properties in India totaling nearly Rs 55,000 crore — the Indian Premier League, International Cricket Council rights for men's and women's global events, and India bilateral matches across formats – across TV and digital platforms.

A hypothetical transaction would see Reliance take over either the full Disney Star India company or just the digital streaming operation. Disney's India operations include the streaming portal Disney+ Hotstar, a substantial linear TV business with more than 70 TV stations in eight languages, and a film studio. Viacom18, Reliance's broadcast subsidiary, owns 38 TV channels in eight languages, as well as the video OTT service JioCinema and Viacom18 Studios. 

If Reliance merely acquires the streaming business, it will gain World Cup digital rights. However, if they get both the linear TV and digital businesses, all cricketing properties will come into the RIL-Disney Star fold, except for a few international tournaments and World Cup TV rights (which Zee-Sony will likely get if their merger goes through), according to senior analyst and Vice President Karan Taurani of brokerage firm Elara Capital.

"If the latter occurs, it will result in a monopoly; they will control close to 80-90% of total potential cricket ad revenues." "They will be able to charge advertisers premium rates and also put cricket content behind a paywall," he argues. He thinks that ad earnings from cricket alone generate Rs 9,000-Rs 10,000 crore across TV and digital channels, accounting for one-tenth of India's Rs 1 lakh crore advertising market.  

The transaction was required because Disney is attempting to separate its Indian operations as part of a global cost-cutting exercise. Initially, it appeared that the India business could be sold or changed into a joint venture. However, no agreement has been reached.

Viacom18 owns the IPL digital streaming rights, as well as the TV and digital rights to India's bilateral matches in men's and women's cricket across T20I, ODI, and Test formats. To attract more people to its platform, Viacom18 streamed the 2023 edition of the IPL for free to all JioCinema app users across telecom networks.  

Disney Star owns the IPL TV and internet rights and plans to sub-license the ICC TV rights to Zed Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). However, despite Zed and Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) being in a projected merger, that one-of-a-kind partnership has yet to see the light of day. To compete with Jio Cinema, Disney Star also aired the recently finished Cricket World Cup for free on its streaming app Disney+ Hotstar.

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