Why Reliance Jio, Amazon are two sides of the same coin
The fear is that the bloodbath which followed Reliance Jio’s entry could now play out in the cable space
In January, Amazon, along with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, announced a new healthcare company. The three companies merely said it would provide high-quality healthcare for their employees and families at a reasonable cost.
But healthcare investors got nervous at the prospect, selling off shares of established players like UnitedHealth and Anthem.
In June 2017, Amazon bought Whole Foods. The unexpected deal sent shares of several biggest grocers, including Walmart, down sharply. Kroger, another top grocer, lost one-tenth of its value on the day of the announcement.
Call it the fear of being “Amazoned”, but its interest in expanding into a new business or even a half-baked mention of its plans has spooked investors in potential competitors.
A similar rattling effect was felt in India when Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the homegrown telecommunications company owned by Mukesh Ambani, announced its expansion into fixed-line broadband with Jio GigaFiber. Instant reaction: Shares of cable TV service providers Den Networks, Siti Cable and Hathway Cable witnessed intraday fall of 11%, 5.5% and 18%, respectively. Companies are also preparing a war-chest: Hathway announced it is raising funds up to ₹100 crore from promoters.
Such events are not in response to just a competitor building a similar product. It was in response to Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL)’s ambitions, which have few limits, and the mere spectre of its entry into a particular industry can shape markets.
The markets have seen it play out over the years. RIL has almost always wrested control in a market it has entered, mostly by financial muscle power and playing on economies of scale. Most recently, it was telecom, which saw the industry roadmap getting rearranged when the company entered the sector with disruptive packages, which incumbents were forced to match—resulting in stiff losses, value erosion, mergers and even bankruptcies. Telecom companies, including Aircel, Telenor India, MTS, Tata Teleservices Ltd and Reliance Communications, part of the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group, had to shut shop primarily due to the Jio effect, or got “Jio-ed” maybe. Remember the “Death by Amazon” index. Time for Death by Jio. Probably, huh!
The underlying fear is that the bloodbath that followed RIL’s entry into telecom could now play out in the data and cable space—clearly divided as pre-Reliance Jio and post-Reliance Jio eras.
Sample the scale: Jio’s services, which commercially launched on 5 September 2016, acquired 16 million subscribers within the first month. It had around 130 million subscribers in October 2017 and 186.6 million as of April. In less than two years, it owns over 20% of the market.
Amazon, too, began to knock off weaker brick-and-mortar rivals, leading to a “last man standing” thesis. Amazon already controls 40% of the US e-commerce market and is on track to own 50% by 2021. According to Bain Insights, the Seattle-based retail disruptor will capture around 70% of all e-commerce growth over the next five years.
Jio GigaFiber will likely borrow from the same playbook. According to Rohit Dokania, senior vice-president, research, IDFC, matching Jio’s “free period” would be difficult for existing players. This could lead to heightened churn and falling average revenue per user (in overlapping areas) and, thus, impact profitability of existing fixed broadband players.
Jio has already laid enough intra-city fiber across hundreds of towns and it has to now just extend it to the last mile—into people’s homes.
Jio is not talking about just another allied industry expansion. It is about creating a “Jio ecosystem” through an eponymous sprawl, which now seeks to include smart TV, IoT and security with fibre connectivity to 1,100 towns that will target 50 million broadband users. Jio wants to control not only the pipe, but also what goes through it—the content (the group’s ownership includes Network 18, Jio TV, Jio Music, Jio Express, stakes in Saavn, ALT Balaji, Eros, Jio Chat, Jio Payments Bank, Jio Cricket Play Along, Jio KBC Play Along and e-commerce and others).
As with any disruptor like Amazon or Jio, whether the sprawl presents a threat or an opportunity for a given company depends on the context. For consumer product companies looking for quick online distribution, Amazon might be a game changer. For over-the-top platforms, Jio GigaFiber could give a further leg-up to their distribution. The threats, though, are obvious.
“Dealing with ‘Jio’ factor is a major part of due-diligence conversations,” says a deals leader at a consulting firm. What this means for investors is that such disruptors have become a factor in the due diligence of almost any target asset across industrial, consumer and retail sectors. In more and more cases, underwriting future value means assessing the “Jio factor”—good or bad.
Shrija Agrawal is Mint’s deals editor. Due Diligence will cover issues in India’s venture capital, private equity and deals space.