Earlier this year, it was revealed that Disney was looking into potentially selling some or all of its assets in India, including its linear television business, film studios and Disney+ Hotstar. Disney acquired Star India after the purchase of 20th Century Fox in 2019.
There have been many interested parties involved in talks with Disney about potentially buying some or all of Disney’s Indian assets, including New Delhi TV, Sun TV and Reliance Industries Ltd.
According to Mint, Sony Pictures Entertainment is also now in talks about potentially acquiring Disney’s Indian business. It’s unknown if Disney is looking to sell the linear business, which includes over 70 channels, its film studios or even its streaming service Disney+ Hotstar.
When Disney purchased 20th Century Fox, the Indian business assets had been valued at over $17 billion, but in the past few years, the value has dropped, especially within the linear business, which recently only pulled in a profit of $500 million.
Back in 2021, Sony announced it planned to purchase of Zee Entertainment, which would bring together over 70 TV channels, plus two video streaming services (Zee5 and SonyLiv) and two film studios (Zee Studios and Sony Pictures Films India). However, the merger is taking too long, and Sony is starting to lose patience and is looking to potentially shift its focus to Disney’s India business if the merger isn’t completed soon.
“A lot has changed in the last two years in the media and entertainment space. Most importantly, Disney India was not up for sale until six months back. Now that it is, top bosses in SPE see Disney India as a better proposition, one where they have cultural similarities, too. But they don’t want to waste any more time and will proceed aggressively if that happens, as the opportunity cost would be too high”
In the past year, Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ Hotstar, has suffered from a huge drop of over 20 million subscribers after Disney decided not to continue to spend billions on the Indian Premiere League Cricket rights, plus not signing a new deal with HBO to keep content on the streaming service.
Since Bob Iger’s return as the CEO, the company has been refocusing on its main businesses, and it no longer sees linear as part of its core businesses. It’s also looking into potentially selling some linear channels in the US and has been closing down channels worldwide over the past few years, to focus on building Disney+.
While Sony’s deal with Zee was supposed to close by the end of March last year, it wasn’t until this past August that it was given the go-ahead by the National Company Law Tribunal, on the condition that Zee’s Punit Goenka can’t hold any key position in the new company, since he was accused of siphoning off funds and money circulation through related entities, which could delay the merger even more, which is why Sony is now looking for an alternative.
A senior media executive explained that Sony acquiring Disney’s Indian businesses makes more sense:
“What Zee was in 2021 compared to what the company’s financials are today is a completely different story. It continues to be an asset but is not the most attractive. Secondly, even if SAT grants a stay order in Goenka’s case, the investigation might continue, meaning Sony can not name him the managing director and CEO. This was one of the terms of the deal. While Punit has said in media interviews that he is committed towards the merger, with or without him, finding a leader for such a big company will be difficult in a short time”.
With multiple companies now in talks with Disney over its Indian assets, it looks much more likely Disney will have more options available, depending on how it wants to proceed. Selling the linear channels and the Star Studios, would allow Disney to focus just on growing its streaming service. Or it could completely get out of the region, also selling off the Hotstar streaming service, though this would be a huge change in strategy for Disney+, as completely leaving the streaming business in India would potentially leave the most populated country in the world, without Disney+.
Disney is currently in negotiations with Comcast to buy out the final stake in Hulu, which could open the door for Disney to rebrand the Star tile on Disney+ around the world to Hulu or make branding changes to Star+ in Latin America, should it decide to completely sell the Star brand as part of the Indian deal, which is where the brand originated.
Hopefully, we find out some more details on Disney’s plans in India soon.
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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.