Reliance changed the face of the Indian OTT sector when it revamped the Jio Cinema App in 2023 by announcing a slate of over 100 Indian language originals along with collaborations with HBO, Peacock, and Paramount for streaming foreign content on their platform. This was nowhere enough for Reliance as the Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate has been in the process of finalizing a merger with Disney Star to become an even bigger force to reckon with.
Talks about giants Reliance and Disney Star merging have been going on for a while now and the latest update is that a non-binding agreement was signed between Reliance Industries and Walt Disney Co. in London last week. The mega-merger is now just a few steps away. The entertainment and media merger is expected to be finalized in February 2024, though Reliance has been keen to wrap things up by January’s end.
This merger will establish a 51-49 partnership between RIL and Star India. Jio Cinema will also be a part of this deal. Reliance will hold a 51% stake while Star India will keep 49% shares. The deal will be a boon for OTT platform Disney+Hotstar which has been incurring losses for a while now.
When these two biggest conglomerates will come together, there will be changes in the Entertainment and OTT Sectors in the country. Here is what might happen.
Reliance-Disney Star Deal: High-Stakes Cricket Rights
Since Reliance and Star India, both hold maximum telecast and digital rights of major cricketing tournaments, the effect of the merger on Cricket advertising and viewing will be massive. The two giants together hold cricket rights of nearly Rs. 55,000 crore which includes major cricket properties like IPL, ICC Men’s and Women’s tournaments, and other Indian bilateral series. This is for the next 4-5 years.
When the merger goes through, since RIL is a major stakeholder it will take over Disney Star’s digital business or entire business. If reliance takes up only digital business, they will get World Cup streaming rights, but if they go for the entire business, all major cricketing events will come into the RIL-Disney Star fold.
For those who don’t know, Reliance’s broadcast division is Viacom 18 and it owns 38 TV channels in 8 languages, Jio Cinema App and Viacom 18 Film Studios. Disney India’s business includes the Disney+Hotstar platform, 70+ TV channels in 8 languages, and a film studio.
If Reliance takes over the entire Star India business, they will have a monopoly with 80-90% rights to cricketing events. RIL will then be able to charge more from advertisers and put cricket behind a paywall for viewers. Also, which series they want to stream paid and which ones are free or how much they want to charge for a certain duration will also be RIL’s decision. This means watching cricket on OTT might get expensive in the coming year, unlike in 2023 when IPL, Asia Cup, and World Cup were streamed for free.
Reliance-Disney Star Deal Means Largest Catalog of Bollywood and Hollywood Content
The coming together of 2 giants will lead to huge changes in the OTT space as well. Small OTT platforms will want to consolidate with RIL & Star India. Global OTT platforms like Netflix might come under pressure as the reach of Indian content and platforms will widen. Several Indian OTT players might start offering free content as well.
Jio Cinema has partnered with HBO, Peacock, Warner Bros., and Paramount+ to offer global content. This has made shows like Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Suits, Law & Order, Euphoria, Mare of East Town, Succession, Sopranos, Your Honor, Fatale Attraction, Madam Secretary and many others. Not only international, but Jio has also roped in some of the Biggest Bollywood names like Shahid Kapoor (Bloody Daddy), Randeep Hooda (Inspector Avinash), Genelia Deshmukh (Trial Period), Sonam Kapoor (Blind), Arshad Warsi (Asur), and others to produce original Hindi movies and shows.
Moreover, as Star and Reliance come together, the budget for producing shows and films will get better. This means a grander scale, better actors, and hopefully more quality content being produced. Whenever a merger happens, it has good as well as bad aftereffects. Since certain markets and genres will see an overlap, some channels/properties might have to be discontinued.
Reliance-Disney Star Deal Shakes Up Indian Streaming Wars
According to the data released for Q3 2023, Disney+Hotstar has left behind Netflix India in terms of subscribers. Disney+Hotstar leads with a 27% market share of subscribers followed by Amazon Prime Video with 21%. Global giant Netflix managed to get 12% subscribers which is underwhelming considering the standard of the platform. Jio Cinema managed to get 4% of subscribers only. However, if Reliance and Star India combine forces, this consumer share will become over 30% which will be way more than Netflix and Prime Video.
The merger between other two bigwigs Sony and Zee has been in process for a while now and if that goes through as well, there will be 2 major networks in India rather than 4-5. This will mean a duopoly in the entertainment sector.
Reliance-Disney Star Deal: A Game-Changer for India’s Entertainment Landscape
As viewers, OTT has become a major source of entertainment for many. Whenever the two mergers get 100% sealed, the way of viewing will start changing. Consolidation would mean subscribing to 2-3 lesser OTT platforms. The content will be streamed on one app instead of 2-3 so downloading one app will save space on your devices—also the hassle of remembering when to renew which subscription will be overcome.
The quality and quantity of content will be affected as well. As forces combine, the giants will have bigger budgets and better resources at their disposal. This might lead to better and more watchable content. Thus, this deal when materialized will be a game changer for the entertainment landscape in India.