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Uday Shankar takes up the mantle to change Viacom18’s fortune

A month before the IPL media rights e-auction, Reliance Industries has sealed the deal with Bodhi Tree Systems, an investment company set up by Rupert Murdoch's son James and former Disney India executive Uday Shankar

A month before the IPL media rights e-auction, Reliance Industries has sealed the deal with Bodhi Tree Systems, an investment company set up by Rupert Murdoch's son James and former Disney India executive Uday Shankar. 

As a part of the deal, Shankar and Murdoch will pump in Rs 13,500 crore ($1.8 billion) to scale up Viacom18’s TV and digital streaming business and become major shareholders in Viacom18. The duo will jointly own around 39% stake in Viacom18. 

Through their investment company Bodhi Tree, Shankar and Murdoch are leading a fundraising to invest in Viacom18 with a consortium of investors aimed at building India's "leading entertainment platform".

In February this year, Lupa Systems Founder James Murdoch and Uday Shankar, who is also the former President of Walt Disney Asia Pacific, announced the formation of the investment venture, Bodhi Tree, raising $ 1.5 billion from the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

It was designed to invest in media and consumer technology opportunities in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on India.

Viacom18 is amongst the leading players in the core linear television business with 38 channels across nine languages and a pan-India presence across general entertainment, movies, sports, youth, music and kids’ genres.

Industry veterans say that Viacom18, which forayed into the sports television business with the launch of two sports channels on April 15, is eyeing the IPL media rights and Shankar’s entry into the game will ensure success on this front.

Shankar and Murdoch have built Star Sports and Hotstar’s businesses relying heavily on live sports and the industry is expecting them to adopt the same strategy to repeat the same success, but this time with Viacom18.

Viacom18 had roped in Anil Jayaraj to lead its sports vertical, who was instrumental in winning IPL media rights for Star in 2017. 

The other strong players eyeing IPL media rights for which BCCI has set a base price of Rs 32,000 crore are Disney Star India, Zee-Sony, and Amazon Prime Video.

Looking at Shankar’s plans to scale up Viacom18’s business and his aggressive business acumen, it can be said that he will not leave any stone unturned to win the IPL media rights.

However, it is yet to be seen whether he picks up all the rights commiting above Rs 32,000 crore or a part of IPL media rights.

During the 2017 bid for IPL media rights, Shankar exploited the combined bid option put in place by BCCI and won the rights for Star India.

This time around, BCCI has not given the option for combined bid. Rather, a new bucket has been created which gives an opportunity to a digital platform to own the media rights for special matches including playoffs. Industry is keeping a close watch on Shankar's strategy for the upcoming e-auctions under the new arrangements.

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