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Reliance nearing multibillion-dollar deal to acquire Disney's India ops

Reliance Industries Ltd., controlled by Asia’s richest tycoon Mukesh Ambani, is nearing a cash and stock deal to buy Walt Disney Co.’s India operations, according to people familiar with the matter.

The US entertainment giant may sell a controlling stake in the Disney Star business, which it values at around Rs 83,100 crore ($10 billion), as opposed to piecemeal transactions weighed earlier, the people said, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. Reliance views the assets at between Rs 58,100 crore to Rs 66,400 crore ($7 billion to $8 billion), some of the people said.

The acquisition could be announced as early as next month with some of Reliance’s media units merged into Disney Star, the people said, without providing further details.

Under the proposal, Disney will likely continue to hold on to a minority stake in the Indian company after any cash and stock swap transaction is completed, the people said. No final decision has been made on the deal or the valuation, and Disney could still decide to hold onto the assets for a bit longer, they added.

Reliance “evaluates various opportunities on an ongoing basis” and will make necessary disclosures as required, a spokesperson for the company said in an emailed reply. A representative for Disney in India didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The deal talks are illustrative of Ambani’s disruption of India’s entertainment industry after he scooped up the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League for Rs 22,400 crore ($2.7 billion) in 2022. The billionaire’s JioCinema platform then chose to broadcast the hugely popular domestic cricket tournament for free earlier this year.

Reliance then scored another win by bagging a multi-year pact to broadcast Warner Bros Discovery Inc.’s HBO shows in India, content that was previously with Disney.

Even as Disney Star struggled with sliding subscriber numbers, the media group hasn’t ceded the market and had been making investments. It has beenweighing other options for the business, including an outright sale or setting up a joint venture, Bloomberg News reported in July.

Still, Disney’s India streaming platform managed to draw in a record 43 million viewers on Sunday for the men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 match between India and New Zealand, the company said in a statement.

That was higher than the 35 million viewership the highly anticipated India-Pakistan grudge match drew earlier this month.

(Published 23 October 2023, 14:42 IST)

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