Disney is reportedly close to selling its India streaming business to its biggest rival in the region, Reliance Industries.
The development, reported by Bloomberg, follows multiple reports over the summer that Disney was in the early stages of exploring a possible joint venture partner or sale for the Indian digital and TV business that includes the Disney+ Hotstar streamer and Star India.
Since then, Disney has had talks with Sun TV Network owner Kalanithi Maran and billionaire Gautam Adani, and recently with Blackstone private equity group, according to reports.
Now, Disney appears ready to sell a controlling stake to Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance, potentially as early as next month. Disney values the India business at $10 billion, while Reliance is said to value it at between $7 billion and $8 billion. The business was valued at about $15 billion to $16 billion when Disney acquired it as part of its 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.
Reliance, along with Paramount Global and Bodhi Tree, a joint venture of James Murdoch and former Star India executive Uday Shankar, own Viacom18, which operates India’s dominant streamer, JioCinema.
After losing the streaming rights to Indian Premiere League (IPL) soccer coverage to JioCinema in June 2022, Disney+ Hotstar lost 8.4 million subscribers between October 2022 and April 2023, bringing its total down to 61 million. Disney, which instead paid $3 billion to continue holding the IPL broadcast rights, has seen Hotstar’s sub losses continue, with JioCinema applying added pressure by offering its IPL streaming coverage free, no paid membership required.
Hotstar has also lost ad revenue, which has in turn contributed to driving down an already very low average revenue per user/ARPU for the streaming service. Hotstar’s ARPU has been about 10 times below that of the Disney+ streamer in the U.S. and other global markets.
Media Partners Asia projected that JioCinema would get 60% of IPL 2023’s total ad sales thanks to its IPL coverage, and that digital ad revenue for the event would surpass TV ad revenue for the first time.
Disney, which has not commented on the Reliance talks report, has been weighing sales of various assets, including some of its television networks, as it pushes to reduce debt. Its streaming business has lost more than $11 billion since the 2019 launch of Disney+, and lost $512 million in its fiscal third quarter ending July 1.