James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the former CEO of 21st Century Fox, has ambitions to build a media empire in India and Southeast Asia.
Murdoch’s company, Bodhi Tree Systems, funds media and consumer technology companies. Bodhi Tree invested 43 billion rupees ($528 million) in Viacom18, a Mumbai-based entertainment network with 35 channels and a streaming platform, in a deal that closed yesterday (April 13).
Murdoch founded Bodhi Tree last year alongside Uday Shankar, former Star India CEO and former president of the Walt Disney Company’s Asia Pacific unit. Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, seeded Bodhi Tree with $1.5 billion to start. Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is investing $200 million in Bodhi Tree, Variety reported today.
While Rupert Murdoch has build his News Corp and Fox empires in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, his son appears more focused on growing the media industry in Asia. There are many opportunities to scale businesses in this region of the world, James Murdoch and Shankar said in a joint statement when they launched their company. With more than 2 billion people in India and Southeast Asia, they see “the long-term growth of these economies and the incredible power of these consumers,” according to the statement.
The media and entertainment industry is growing faster than the global economy is, and India’s market is growing at one of the highest rates, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers published last year. India has the third-fastest growing video games market in the world, and the country played a huge role in helping recoup global theater revenues after the pandemic, the report said. Its market is becoming more competitive as Viacom18, the company backed by Murdoch, develops into a streaming giant that has the “means and assets” to disrupt the industry, MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson said last year.
Bodhi Tree’s 43 billion rupee investment in Viacom18 was originally pledged at 135 billion rupees. The company didn’t report what led to the 70 percent decrease, but it could be a result of a slowed global economy, or Murdoch’s company could deliver the remaining funds at a later date, according to Reuters.
As part of Bodhi Tree’s investment in Viacom18, the Indian company merged with JioCinema, a streaming service. Both are subsidiaries of Reliance Industries, an Indian conglomerate run by billionaire Mukesh Ambani with its hands in energy, natural gas, retail and media. Reliance Industries retains majority ownership of Viacom18, while Bodhi Tree and Paramount Global have stakes as well.
Viacom18 isn’t the only investment Murdoch has made in the region. Last year, Bodhi Tree also invested $600 million in Allen Career Institute, an Indian test prep company.