afaqs! news bureau

Mergers, acquisitions and rights: here’s what made news in 2023

We revisit the dynamic shifts which shaped the contours of the Indian media industry in 2023.

2023 has been a year of mergers and acquisitions. From the prolonged Zee-Sony merger to the newly shaping Disney-Reliance deal, a lot has transpired in the Indian media landscape this year. Amidst these developments,  Viacom18 has completely disrupted the status quo with its free streaming for the IPL. It also secured media rights for the Women's Indian Premier League (WPL) and BCCI matches, while Bodhi Tree acquired a stake in the company. 

As we reflect on these developments, let’s revisit the dynamic shifts which shaped the contours of the Indian media industry in 2023.

Zee-Sony Merger Saga Stretches on and on

Two years after signing a merger agreement in December 2021, the Sony-Zee deal is still to be concluded. It was anticipated to conclude in 8-10 months. However, in 2023 we saw the merger facing uncertainties with SEBI initiating a probe against Zee CEO Punit Goenka and a clash between the two companies over the CEO of the merged entity.

Mergers, acquisitions and rights: here’s what made news in 2023

Following multiple twists and turns, on December 17, four days before the cut-off date, Zee sought an extension to the merger. In a statement, issued on December 19, Sony said it looks forward to hearing Zee’s proposals and will then decide on its request for the deadline extension. 

Meanwhile, the merger faced other roadblocks when Axis Finance and IDBI bank challenged it at the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), for unpaid loans. However, in its last hearing on December 15, NCLAT refused to pause the merger. The next hearing is scheduled for January 2024.

Jio redefines the media landscape

Voot merges with JioCinema

Viacom18 completed the merger of its two OTT platforms, JioCinema and Voot in August. JioCinema was merged into Viacom18 after Reliance Industries, Bodhi Tree Systems, and Paramount Global successfully concluded its plan to join in April 2023. Since then, JioCinema has become Viacom’s OTT destination be it sports or Hollywood entertainment. 

Free IPL

After streaming the FIFA World Cup 2022 for free, Viacom18, the digital media rights owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL), streamed the cricket tournament free of cost on its JioCinema app. This, after it bagged the digital rights by shelling out Rs 23,758 crore for the 2023-2027 cycle.

Though the decision seemed to be a risk initially as JioCinema lost out on subscription revenue, it seemed to have worked in favour of the platform. According to highly placed sources, it raked in about Rs 2,300- 2,500 crore in advertising revenue, while the television ad revenue hovered around Rs 1,800-2,000 crore.

Hybrid SVoD for international content

While JioCinema offered IPL and other sports properties for free, along with many Indian originals, it has put its international English language content (from Warner Bros. Discovery and NBCUniversal’s Peacock Originals) behind a paywall – Rs 999 annually. 

Meanwhile, in April, Jio Studios, the content arm of Reliance Industries, announced a slate of 100 new films and TV shows for the OTT platform.

With this, it is offering free content through advertising-based video-on-demand (AVOD), and attracting loyal viewers for its premium SVoD content. Thus it caters to both the free-viewing audience and the premium audience. 

However, the hybrid SVoD model has become a cause for concern for its rivals as Indians prefer to opt for free content. 

Viacom18 wins WPL rights

Viacom18 won the media rights for the Women’s Indian Premier League (WPL) for 2023-27. The network has committed Rs 951 crore, which amounts to Rs 7.09 crore per match for the next 5 years. There will be 22 matches in the first three editions and 34 in the next two.

Viacom18 wins BCCI rights for both TV and digital

Viacom18 won both the television and digital rights of the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) matches for the next five years (2023-28). With this, it has created a near monopoly in the Indian cricket broadcasting sphere as it also has the TV and digital rights for the WPL and the digital rights for the IPL.  

Bodhi Tree acquires stake in Viacom18

Uday Shankar
Uday Shankar

In April 2023, Bodhi Tree Systems, a joint venture between Shankar and James Murdoch, acquired a 13% stake for Rs 4,306 crore in Reliance-owned Viacom18. As part of the deal, Shankar, who earlier led Disney’s Asia-Pacific operations, joined the board of Viacom18. In August, Bodhi Tree Systems paid Rs 953.23 crore to buy an additional 2.89% stake in Viacom18.

In April 2023, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) approved NBC Universal's stake acquisition in Bodhi Tree-owned entities. The deal allowed Comcast to get a foothold in Viacom18 through Bodhi Tree.

TV18 and E18 merger

On December 6, Network18 Group announced the merger of TV18 and E18 with Network18. The merged entity will comprise the TV portfolio of TV18 (20 news channels in 16 languages and, digital assets of Network18 ( platform across 13 languages and Firstpost), and the Moneycontrol website and app.

Developments at Disney Star

Disney Star hires Ajit Varghese as Head of Network Advertising Sales

Ajit Varghese
Ajit Varghese

Disney Star appointed Ajit Varghese (ex-chief commercial officer, ShareChat and Moj) as head of network advertising sales in January. He is responsible for the overall advertising revenues of Disney Star’s television and digital businesses. 

Makes Sports streaming free + Max view

After Viacom18’s experiment with free streaming during the IPL, Disney+ Hotstar announced free streaming of its cricket properties- Asia Cup and ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup tournaments. It made them available as free-to-view to all mobile phone users. Subsequently, the streamer made Pro Kabaddi League too free for mobile users in India.

In an industry-first, Disney Star introduced a vertical video feed allowing viewers to stream the matches in a 9X14 portrait view. 

Speaking to afaqs!, Disney+ Hotstar’s head of marketing Sidharth Shakdher said that brands are tweaking their ads for the streamer’s MaxView proposition.  “I think more advertisers will start shooting their ad in this format.”

Losing subs and Disney puts Star on sale?

After losing key content offerings like IPL streaming rights and premium HBO content to Viacom18, Disney's video streaming service, Disney+ Hotstar, lost subscribers for four consecutive quarters this year. 

From 61.3 million subscribers in October 2022, its paid member base dropped to 37.6 million on September 30, 2023.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, on November 8, said the company is considering their options for the India business. During the earnings call, he said that the linear television business was doing quite well in India, but other parts of their business had been a challenge.

"We would like to stay in that market but we are also looking to see whether we can strengthen our hand and improve the bottom line," Iger said.

Disney is now reportedly exploring a merger for its India business. 

In the last week of December, Reliance and Walt Disney were said to be finalising details of a non-binding term sheet to merge their India operations. If true, the deal is expected to be announced in January. 

Disney Exodus and Restructuring

In 2023, many senior executives at Disney Star left the company. Ambarish Bandyopadhyay, head of sports sales, quit Disney Star to join Esme Consumer. Disney+ Hotstar's EVP and head of ad sales, Shalini Poddar, quit the OTT platform to join Apple Services as country director. Anuja Trivedi resigned as the executive director, content studio strategy head, Disney Star, and joined Shemaroo Entertainment as the chief marketing officer.

Kevin Vaz, president and head of network entertainment channels, joined Viacom18 as its new chief executive officer. Disney+ Hotstar's head of PR and publicity, Shweta Poojari, moved on to join Netflix as head of communications. Sidharth Shakdher, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Disney+ Hotstar has also resigned. Sushma Rajesh, senior vice president and business head – Kannada at The Walt Disney Company joined Viacom18 Media.

In June, Disney Star restructured its senior leadership. Gaurav Banerjee now heads Star Bharat, Hindi and English Movies cluster, Kids and Infotainment, and the regional portfolio (East) including Star Jalsha and Star Kiran, in addition to leading Content Studio for TV and Disney+ Hotstar. Krishnan Kutty now heads the business and content for South and Marathi. 

Measurement Debate

Zee resumes BARC Data

A year after it pulled out of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) citing the unfair practice of other channels using landing pages, Zee Media Corporation re-registered for the television audience measurement system in September 2023.

Rolled versus Unrolled Data

After the ratings were suspended in October 2020 following the TRP scam, BARC resumed viewership ratings of news channels in March 2022. However, the revised system required the reporting of news and niche genres to be carried out on a four-week rolling average concept.

In November, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) approved the unrolling of the viewership data for the news and niche genres. However, a week later, the MIB put its approval on hold and now the broadcasters continue to have access to only four-week rolling average data.

Adani acquires IANS

After acquiring television news network NDTV last year, Gautam Adani-owned Adani Enterprises has secured a 50.5% stake in the news agency Indo-Asian News Service (IANS). Adani Group now holds complete operational and managerial authority over IANS.

Netflix ends password sharing in India 

On July 20, 2023, Netflix discontinued account sharing in various markets, including India, Indonesia, Croatia, and Kenya. Unlike some other countries, Netflix opted not to introduce the paid sharing option in India, a feature that enables users to pay an additional fee to share an account because it implemented price cuts the company undertook in India in 2021.

With contributions from Benita Chacko and Ruchika Jha.

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