Disney, Reliance Finalising Terms of Merger in Disney+ Hotstar, Star India Deal: Report

Reliance Industries, India’s most valuable company, and Walt Disney are finalising details of a non-binding term sheet to merge their Indian media operations, the Economic Times reported on Tuesday citing executives involved in the deal.

Under the current terms of agreement, possibly to be announced in January, a newly-formed unit of Reliance’s Viacom18 is to absorb Disney’s Star India through a share swap deal, the report added.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance is likely to pay cash for a 51 percent stake in the proposed Viacom18 unit while Disney owns 49 percent, ET said. The unit’s board is expected to have equal representation from both parties, according to the newspaper.

Disney and Reliance did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Reliance, whose broadcast venture Viacom18 runs JioCinema, was reported by Bloomberg in October to be valuing Disney’s India assets, which comprises the Disney+ Hotstar streaming service and Star India, at between $7 billion (roughly Rs. 58,369 crore) and $8 billion (roughly Rs. 66,707 crore).

At the time, Disney valued the operations at $10 billion (roughly Rs. 83,384 crore).

Back in October, private equity firm Blackstone had held preliminary discussions with Walt Disney to acquire a stake in the Indian arm of the entertainment firm. Blackstone-backed US media firm Candle Media, founded by former Disney executives, had led conversations between the two parties.

Disney has also held talks with Indian billionaires Gautam Adani and Sun TV Network owner Kalanithi Maran, Bloomberg News had reported earlier.

With subscriber exits accelerating, Disney has sought to revive the fortunes of its streaming business in India by offering free cricket on smartphones, betting that the strategy will boost advertising revenue.

It has meanwhile lost streaming rights for some key cricket tournaments to Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s broadcasting unit – including the Indian Premier League and the national cricket team’s bilateral matches.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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