Disney (DIS) may have picked a new owner to house its India operations. Disney Star, the Indian media conglomerate Disney acquired in 2019, may soon be sold to Reliance Industries, Bloomberg first reported today (Oct. 24). Reliance is owned and chaired by Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest person in Asia currently valued at $89 billion.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Disney began exploring sale options in July. It purchased 21st Century Fox, now 20th Century Studios, in 2019 and gained Star India, now Disney Star, as a result. Prior to Disney’s acquisition, Star India was owned by 21st Century Fox since 2013.
When Disney acquired Star India, it earned the streaming rights to cricket matches of the India Premier League through local streaming service Hotstar, a subsidiary of Star India. But it lost those rights in 2022 after losing a bidding war to Viacom18, jointly owned by Ambani’s Reliance and Paramount Global. Disney’s loss of cricket streaming rights resulted in a quarter of Hotstar’s subscribers (12.5 million) leaving the platform, Disney revealed in its second-quarter earnings report.
Now, the potential sale could give Ambani much more than cricket. Viacom18, partly owned by Ambani, paid nearly $3 billion for the streaming rights to India Premier League in its 2022 bidding war with Disney. Reliance could pay another $10 billion for a controlling stake in Star India, which owns more than 70 television channels and movie studios, including Star Studios and Marvel India. The company said in 2018 that it had over 700 million viewers.
Who Is Mukesh Ambani?
Through Reliance, Ambani’s business spans energy, retail and telecommunication. He and his brother, Anil Ambani, inherited the company after their father, Dhirubhai Ambani, died in 2002. Dhirubhai founded Reliance Commercial Corporation as a commodities trading business in Mumbai and turned it into a publicly traded company in 1977. He eventually renamed the company to its current name, Reliance Industries Limited, in 1985 and expanded to manufacturing plastics, petrochemicals and petroleum.
Dhirubhai’s sons Mukesh and Anil assumed joint ownership after his death but then decided to split the assets in 2005 due to disagreements. Ambani has controlled Reliance Industries since then, and Anil owns Reliance Group.
Reliance Industries acquired Indian media group Network 18 in 2014, adding mass media to its vast web of subsidiaries. Network 18’s businesses include the broadcasting network TV 18 Broadcast Limited and movie studio Viacom 18 Motion Pictures.