According to four people familiar with the subject, Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries and Walt Disney have recruited law firms and begun antitrust due diligence on their planned Indian media and entertainment combination. According to the sources, Reliance has hired Indian law firm Khaitan & Co and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, while Disney has hired AZB & Partners.
The appointments are the latest evidence of progress as Reliance and Disney, which both have a major streaming service and 120 television channels, consider merging to form an entertainment giant in the world's most populous country. Ambani's gang is projected to own the bulk of the company.
According to a fifth source, senior Disney executives from Burbank and top Reliance executives from Mumbai traveled to London in late December and signed a non-binding term sheet on the deal.
Reliance stated it had "no comments to offer" and called the story "speculative," without going into further detail. Disney did not respond to a request for comment. Khaitan and Shardul both declined to comment, and AZB did not react promptly to Reuters inquiries.
According to Reuters, any potential merger between Reliance and Disney is likely to face antitrust objections and extensive scrutiny, with assets such as TV channels likely to be divested to alleviate worries about their combined market strength.
According to three sources acquainted with the Reliance-Disney merger due diligence, the work for antitrust assessment is still in its early stages. If a deal is reached between Reliance and Disney, it will be the second to change India's TV and streaming scene, as Sony seeks to merge its India operation with Zed Entertainment.
Disney's India business has struggled, with Ambani engaged in a bitter battle with the American corporation by giving free streaming of Indian Premier League cricket (IPL) matches, the digital rights to which were previously held by Disney in India.
According to antitrust experts, a crucial area of antitrust scrutiny for a Disney-Reliance combination would be their streaming operations and their authority over advertising during cricket. The Disney Hotstar app retains rights to International Cricket Council matches in India till 2027, while Reliance's JioCinema app holds rights to the IPL. According to Reuters, corporate executives clashed in early conversations about whether Disney or Reliance's entertainment unit is more valuable.