Disney and Reliance Industries Announce Media Mega Deal in India

The Walt Disney Company had an India-sized twinkle in its eye as early as 1993, when it first came to the country of now 1.4 billion potential media consumers. It started small and found a distributor to broadcast some of its content over airwaves that were just opening to global capitalism.

Along with India’s market, Disney’s ambitions grew bigger. Last year EY, the accounting and consulting firm, estimated that India’s media landscape would be worth $100 billion by 2030. And Disney banked on bringing hundreds of millions of subscribers to streaming services of its own.

Those ambitions have come to a halt. On Wednesday, Disney announced it would merge its Indian operations under those of Viacom18, a part of Reliance Industries, India’s biggest conglomerate. Reliance and Viacom18 will hold 63 percent of the new whole, withDisney in the passenger seat, left with 37percent of the joint company’s ownership. Reliance will fork over $1.4 billion to consolidate its control.

Disney is one of the biggest of companies in the world — valued at $200 billion on the stock market — but in India, it proved no match for the homegrown hero.

Disney’s adventures in India were at their high point in 2019, when it bought 21st Century Fox from the Murdoch family’s News Corp. Among Fox’s assets, Disney won TV and streaming rights to the wildly popular Indian Premier League cricket matches.

Big subscriber numbers followed, but at great cost. At its pandemic-fueled peak, Disney+ had 162 million subscribers in India, but it was losing almost $500 million worldwide in pursuit of viewers. By summer 2022, its global operations had bled more than $11 billion since the purchase of Fox and launch of Disney+.

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