Reliance Industries and Walt Disney announce $8.5 billion merger

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, poses with wife Nita Ambani before addressing the company's annual general meeting in Mumbai, India July 21, 2017. File Photo: REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

Mumbai: In a significant move in India's media and entertainment sector, billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries and Walt Disney have declared their merger, forming a powerhouse valued at $8.5 billion.

The collaboration is set to reshape the landscape of TV and streaming media in the nation, boasting a combined reach of over 750 million viewers across India and the Indian diaspora worldwide. The merged entity will have 120 TV channels and two streaming platforms, making its business much larger than rivals such as Japan's Sony, Netflix and India's Zee Entertainment in the country's $28 billion media and entertainment sector.

The transaction is subject to regulatory, shareholder and other customary approvals and is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2024 or the first quarter of 2025.

Television Dominance
The merged entity brings together a formidable array of television assets. Reliance's Viacom18, holding a majority stake, boasts 40 channels including popular brands like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and MTV. Disney Star, a household name in India, adds to the arsenal with approximately 80 channels renowned for Hindi family dramas and Hollywood blockbusters. Their collective portfolio spans across general entertainment, sports, children's programming, documentaries, and regional language content. Viacom18 holds TV rights for both domestic and international cricket matches under the Board of Control for Cricket in India, while Disney possesses rights for the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) until 2027.

Streaming Supremacy
In the streaming arena, Reliance's JioCinema and Disney's Hotstar merge to offer a vast library of over 200,000 hours of content, ranging from television dramas to blockbuster movies and sporting events. Disney's Hotstar, ranked as the second-most downloaded video streaming app in India in 2022, boasts a strong lineup of global hits, including content from the Marvel universe and National Geographic documentaries. Additionally, it secured digital rights for International Cricket Council's matches in India until 2027. JioCinema, on the other hand, clinched streaming rights for IPL until 2027, surpassing Disney in a high-stakes bidding war. Notably, JioCinema has also inked deals with The Pokemon Company and Warner Bros to bolster its content offerings.

Disney and Reliance logos are seen in this illustration taken December 15, 2023. File Photo: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The joint venture will also be granted exclusive rights to distribute Disney films and productions in India, with a licence to more than 30,000 Disney content assets, providing a full suite of entertainment options for the Indian consumer.

Mukesh D Ambani, Chairman & Managing Director of Reliance Industries, said, "This is a landmark agreement that heralds a new era in the Indian entertainment industry. We have always respected Disney as the best media group globally and are very excited at forming this strategic joint venture that will help us pool our extensive resources, creative prowess, and market insights to deliver unparalleled content at affordable prices to audiences across the nation. We welcome Disney as a key partner of Reliance group."

Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company said, "India is the world's most populous market, and we are excited for the opportunities that this joint venture will provide to create long-term value for the company. Reliance has a deep understanding of the Indian market and consumer, and together we will create one of the country's leading media companies, allowing us to better serve consumers with a broad portfolio of digital services and entertainment and sports content."

Nita Ambani returns to the fore
The merger also sees Nita Ambani, wife of Mukesh Ambani, taking the reins as the chair of the new entity. Her re-entry into mainstream business underscores the family's commitment to the media sector, aligning with her long-standing interests in sports, arts, and Bollywood. Nita Ambani's extensive experience, particularly in sports management as the owner of Mumbai Indians in the IPL, positions her as a strategic leader for the merged board.
(With Reuters, PTI inputs.)

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