Digital Marketing

Disney, Reliance Sign Non-binding Agreement for India Media Operations Merger: Report

Reliance Industries, India’s most valuable company, and Walt Disney signed a non-binding term sheet to merge their Indian media operations, the Economic Times reported on Monday, citing sources it did not name.

Under the merger, Reliance would own 51% through a combination of shares and cash, with Disney holding the remaining 49%, giving more control to Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group, the newspaper said.

The deal is likely to be completed by February, with Reliance aiming to finish the process by the end of January, subject to regulatory approvals, it said.

Reliance and Disney did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Reuters reported two weeks ago that company executives were meeting in London to discuss the next stage of the media merger.

A merger would create one of India’s biggest entertainment empires, competing with television interests such as Zee Entertainment and Sony and streaming giants including Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Reliance runs many TV channels and the JioCinema streaming app through its media and entertainment unit, Viacom18. Ambani has been locked in a fierce battle with Disney, offering free streaming of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, whose digital rights were once with Disney in India.

This has sparked a user exodus from Disney’s streaming app Hotstar in recent quarters. Since early this year, Disney has been exploring a sale or joint venture partnership for its India business, which includes many TV channels. The proposed deal would create a unit under Reliance’s Viacom18 to take control of Star India through a stock swap, the Economic Times said. The parties are working on a plan to invest $1 billion to $1.5 billion in the business, it said, without specifying whether this was the total or the amount each would invest.

The board is expected to include an equal number of directors from Reliance and Disney, with at least two representatives each, the newspaper said. They are also in consideration of having at least two independent directors, but this might change in the coming weeks, the report said.

(Reporting by Navamya Ganesh Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)

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