Disney Announces $8.5 Billion Mega-Merger With Reliance, Igniting Streaming Wars and Cricket Frenzy in India

By Thea Felicity

Feb 29, 2024 10:10 AM EST

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The Walt Disney Company has announced its $8.5 billion merger with Indian conglomerate Reliance, signaling a significant shift in India's streaming wars and sports entertainment landscape. 

As noted in the press release, the merger is set to create a new joint venture that will consolidate Disney's presence in the rapidly expanding Indian market. All while bolstering its streaming offerings, particularly in the realm of cricket, a sport deeply ingrained in the country's cultural fabric.

The merger, which involves the integration of Disney's Star India and Viacom18 units with Reliance's media assets, including the Jio Cinema streaming platform, underscores the growing importance of India in the global entertainment industry. 

Now--with the joint venture expected to reach over 750 million viewers in India, it represents a strategic move by Disney to tap into one of the world's largest and fastest-growing consumer markets.

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Key to the merger is the infusion of capital by Asia's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who will contribute $1.4 billion to the venture's growth strategy. 

Ambani's investment shows the potential he sees in the partnership and reflects his confidence in the future of India's media and entertainment industry. His wife, Nita Ambani, will assume the role of chairperson, further cementing the family's influence and commitment to the venture's success.

One of the most compelling aspects of the Disney-Reliance merger is its implications for cricket streaming rights in India. 

Disney's acquisition of Indian streaming service Hotstar and Star TV channels in 2019 provided it with exclusive streaming rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the world's premier cricket leagues. 

However, Reliance's subsequent acquisition of IPL rights in 2022 and the launch of its free streaming platform, Jio Cinema, led to a significant exodus of customers from Disney's platform.

Disney's Advantage on the Reliance Merger

Analysts who shared their sentiments to CNBC, view the merger as a strategic move by Disney to reaffirm its commitment to the Indian market and capitalize on the country's uprising digital economy. 

Despite recent subscriber losses and financial challenges, Disney remains committed to acquiring long-term prospects in India, recognizing the country's immense potential as a key growth driver in the streaming space.

While the merger is expected to result in non-cash impairment charges for Disney in the short term, analysts believe that the long-term benefits far outweigh the immediate costs. This is after VCPost reported that streaming profitability is projected to improve by the end of 2024.

READ MORE: US Justice Department to Scrutinize Disney, Fox, Warner Sports Streaming Venture: Report

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