Feb 28, 2024 - Business

Disney to merge Star India in deal with Ambani's Reliance

Illustration of a handshake between two people in front of a background designed with a graphic Indian flag pattern, surrounded by an Indian rupee border.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Disney is merging its India business with India-based Viacom18 as part of a joint venture with Reliance Industries, the company announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: The deal, which the companies are calling a joint venture valued at $8.5 billion, allows Disney to keep a small foothold in a market in which it once had much higher hopes.

Zoom in: The deal merges Disney's Star India with Viacom18, itself a joint venture between Reliance and Paramount Global.

  • Reliance, owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, will own 16.34% of the JV and have operational control. Viacom18 will be the majority stakeholder with 46.82% and Disney will retain a 36.84% minority stake.
  • Upon the deal's closing, Reliance will invest an additional $1.4 billion into the business.
  • Nita Ambani, Mukesh's wife, will be the joint venture's chairperson, with Uday Shankar serving as vice chairperson and providing strategic guidance. Shankar was CEO of Star India for a decade until he left in 2020, a year after Disney acquired the business.

Shankar and James Murdoch's investment firm Bodhi Tree Systems purchased a minority stake in Viacom18 last year.

  • Murdoch also helped to build Star India during his days with Fox.

The big picture: Star India was considered one of the crown jewels of Disney's $71.3 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox.

  • The loss of hugely popular cricket league streaming rights — to Viacom18, no less — sunk the business.
  • Disney was able to radically beef up its subscriber count when it integrated Disney+ within Star India's preexisting Hotstar streaming service in 2020.
  • At one point, it accounted for more subscribers than any other territory, including the U.S., but the service was priced very low in India, which dragged down revenue.

What's next: The deal is expected to close either in the fourth quarter of 2024 or first quarter of 2025.

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