In the early 2000s, Disney went on one of the most extraordinary runs in modern business history under CEO Bob Iger‘s reign. ESPN was the most valuable network in the cable bundle. They acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox. As the company shifted to streaming, it seemed like the ideal competitor to lap Netflix and eat the box office at the same time.
Disney’s stock is now at a nine-year low. Disney+ lost $4 billion last year. The Walt Disney Company has entered into a “preliminary agreement” to sell 60% of its India business to Viacom18, valued at $3.9 billion (₹33,000 crore), according to a Wall Street Journal report. The deal will be sealed this month. This marks a significant shift for Disney in a market that once held high aspirations.
Reports had suggested a potential merger with Reliance Industries and a valuation closer to $10 billion.
This deal comes amidst challenges for Disney+ Hotstar in India. The platform has seen a steady decline in subscribers, dropping from 61.3 million in September 2022 to 37.6 million a year later. The loss of key content like IPL and HBO shows, coupled with competition from Jio Cinema, are cited as contributing factors.
What Transpired So Far
In December 2023, Reliance Industries and Walt Disney had held extensive talks to merge their Indian entertainment operations. However, the companies did not reach any broad agreement on structures or valuations. The Disney-Viacom18 deal is seen as a significant move in the Indian media and entertainment industry after the Zee-Sony deal failed last month.
In October, reports first surfaced that Reliance was evaluating Disney’s India assets, comprising the Disney+ Hotstar streaming service and Star India, at a valuation ranging from $7 billion to $8 billion. During the same period, Disney valued these operations at $10 billion. The dip in valuation is partly attributed to a write-off of revenue from the sale of cricket TV rights by Disney to Zee.
The Battle For IPL
Earlier this month it was reported that Disney Star and Viacom18 were gearing up to fight the advertising rights in the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024.
A report in the Economic Times said Disney Star, which will air the IPL matches on its sports channels, is asking for Rs 167 crore for co-presenting and Rs 83 crore for associate sponsorships, on standard definition (SD) channels.
For HD channels, the broadcaster is seeking Rs 71 crore for co-presenting sponsorship and Rs 35 crore for associate sponsorship.
On the other hand, Viacom18, which will continue to stream IPL matches for free on Jio Cinema, has kept its advertising rates unchanged to widen its advertiser base. The company had reportedly roped in over 500 advertisers for IPL 2023.
What Could Be The Causes Of Disney’s Downfall?
What happened to America’s greatest entertainment company? While the reasons behind the sale remain officially undisclosed, speculation points towards:
Shifting priorities: Disney might be refocusing its resources on core markets and high-growth areas like Disney+.
Content challenges: Navigating the complex Indian media landscape and securing popular content might have proven difficult.
Financial considerations: Offloading a portion of the business could improve financial flexibility and streamline operations.
The deal with Reliance Industries-owned Viacom18 positions the media giant to become a major player in the streaming wars. Disney, meanwhile, retains a 40% stake and will continue to collaborate on content creation and distribution. This move signals a new chapter for both companies in the dynamic Indian media landscape. Only time will tell how this strategic shift plays out, but it’s sure to have a significant impact on the entertainment industry of our country.