Over the past few months, there have been many reports that Disney has been looking at its options with regards to its business in India, called Disney Star, formerly known as Star India, which it acquired when it purchased 20th Century Fox in 2019. Disney Star includes the streaming service Disney+ Hotstar, film studios such as Star Studios, an array of over seventy linear channels, and much more.
In the past few months, Disney has been having talks with many different businesses, including Sony, Blackstone, Sun TV and New Delhi TV, about potentially selling some or all of its assets in India. According to Bloomberg, Reliance Industries Ltd, which is owned by Asia’s richest tycoon Mukesh Ambani, is getting close to completing a deal to buy Disney Star in a cash and stock deal. Disney is valuing its Indian business at around $10 billion (down from the $15 billion it was worth before Disney purchased it in 2019), and Reliance is valuing the business between $7 and $8 billion.
Disney is still looking to keep a minority stake in the company, but it would sell a controlling stake in Disney Star. But it still may keep hold of some assets. There might also be some regulatory issues that could cause delays with the buyout. We’ve seen with other large mergers that the Indian government might require some assets to be sold off separately.
It’s expected that the announcement of a deal could be made as early as next month. Disney does have a quarterly financial investors call on November 8th 2024, so announcing this deal, could help Disney offset the costs of buying out Comcast’s stake in Hulu, which is estimated to cost around $9 billion. Allowing Disney to basically sell off one business to cover its purchase, allowing Disney to focus on its core markets. Reliance would merge some of its media units into Disney Star.
JioCinema, which Reliance runs, has been a thorn in Disney’s side, having paid billions of dollars to get the Indian Premiere Cricket league rights, which resulted in Disney+ Hotstar losing over 20 million subscribers. Plus, recently, JioCinema also picked up the rights to HBO content, which was then removed from Disney+ Hotstar.
It’s unknown if Disney+ Hotstar will continue in its current setup or be merged with JioCinema. Could Disney+ just operate separately in India, without the Hotstar branding and content, which could move over to JioCinema? There are certainly more questions than answers right now.
So, what does this mean for Disney+ and Hulu around the world?
At the moment, officially, no deal has been announced, and no details on what’s actually going to happen have been revealed. There are many variables and potential outcomes from Disney selling its Indian assets. Selling Star India wouldn’t likely have much impact outside India, other than a potential move away from the Star branding and maybe changing the name of Disney+ Hotstar in some countries like Indonesia.
If Disney does sell off Disney Star, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Star hub within Disney+ around the world, rebranded to Hulu once Disney completes its purchase from Comcast. Disney has rebranded many linear channels to Star in countries worldwide, which might be another issue that results in more rebranding. While in Latin America, Disney runs a streaming service called, Star+, which is a Hulu & ESPN+ hybrid, but there is always hope Disney unifies Star+ and Disney+ in that region, to be similar to how Disney+ works internationally. The Star brand has only been used by Disney since 2019, and arguably, the brand is very generic and could easily be changed.
Disney is still running Hotstar as a separate streaming service in many countries, including Canada, Singapore and the UK, so those could be included in the deal. Hulu does have some Hotstar content from India, so this could continue to be licensed or eventually removed.
If Disney+ Hotstar was completely sold off, it would obviously have a significant impact on the global subscriber numbers for Disney+. However, Wall Street may prefer this, since a Hotstar subscriber generally brings in less than 60 cents per month, compared to over $7 outside of India. Investors may also like a more leaner Disney, focused on its core brands.
For Disney+ Hotstar subscribers, it does bring up many questions about what happens could be merged together and what the future is for its content. Internationally, it brings the Star branding into question. But ultimately, Disney does seem like its less interested in running a vast linear, streaming and studio business in India, instead treating it like more other countries in the world.
It’s important to note, that no final decision has been made, and Disney could still decide to hold onto the assets, but the Star Studios and linear channels, being sold off does seem much more likely.
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Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.