Reliance-Disney dalliance to stir up streaming scene

First domino to fall (Reuters)
First domino to fall (Reuters)

Summary

  • The new entity may be the first domino to fall
  • Plans to acquire smaller players in the fray

India’s cluttered video streaming market could be in for some consolidation, if the sale of a majority of Disney’s India assets to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd sails through.

The proposed transaction will give Reliance access to Disney’s massive libraries across the English language, including its Marvel catalogue. Meanwhile, Reliance already has content from HBO, and is bullish on regional languages, including the four South Indian languages, as well as Marathi and Bengali. Sports will be a priority as well.

The combined Reliance-Disney streaming entity will be three to four times bigger in terms of total hours of programming than Netflix, and may even look at acquiring smaller, niche language-specific entities that are struggling to survive.

While there has been speculation around Walt Disney selling its business in India, chief executive officer Bob Iger recently said the company would like to stay on in the Indian market.

On Friday, Mint reported that talks between Reliance and Disney have reached an advanced level for Disney Star to transfer most of its entertainment assets—linear TV and digital businesses—into a new entity. Reliance will pick up a 60% stake in this new company for around $2.28 billion–$2.4 billion, valuing Disney’s India assets between $3.8 billion and $4 billion.

Disney declined to comment, while Reliance did not respond to queries.

“As far as English language programming goes, all the brands that matter, be it Disney, Marvel, Showtime (a sub-division of Paramount Media Networks), Warner HBO, and ViacomCBS, will be under one umbrella," Uday Sodhi, senior partner, Kurate Digital Consulting said.

Further, the Disney catalogue will help bring kids and families on board. With JioCinema forging content deals with Warner, HBO, and NBCUniversal last year, media and entertainment industry experts say competition has intensified for premium English language content offerings in India. These platforms specifically target and cater to discerning viewers who are willing to pay more for quality content. However, while Disney, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sony have the advantage of a global parent, others such as Jio have to bear an acquisition cost. A recent report by media consulting firm Ormax showed the number of Indians watching international English content jumped over fourfold to 85.2 million currently from 19.1 million before the pandemic outbreak.

The combination of Disney India and Reliance will leave little for others to do on the sports front, said Anuj Gandhi, media analyst and founder of Plug and Play Entertainment, a media tech startup.

The combined entity will also gain from the English language content and content from the entertainment channels they operate. Between them, the two will have both satellite and digital rights to the IPL besides other cricket and tennis properties. “Reliance has both a repertoire and an interest in sports. The sense is that they will stick to it, leaving things like, say, movie buying to players such as Netflix and Prime Video," Gandhi said. To be sure, the dominance of the combined entity could also help bring some method to the madness in India’s fragmented OTT market.

“It would be a great strategy to look at acquiring smaller players, say the likes of ALTBalaji that has a certain mass audience base or Hoichoi that is a regional player. If these opportunities are leveraged, it would be a win-win for all," said a senior executive at a rival platform, declining to be named.

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