Cricket

Disney without cricket risks its streaming game

Disney without cricket risks its streaming game

NEW YORK, March 3 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Cricket has been a magic wand for Walt Disney (DIS.N) in India. The $270 billion entertainment giant owns the exclusive rights to lucrative Indian Premier League cricket, but those are now up for grabs and the Mouse House faces stiff competition. Without the tournament, he can say goodbye to easy subscriber wins.

When Disney bought some of Fox’s assets in 2019, it mopped up a gem of Star India’s video-on-demand and streaming service, Hotstar. Rupert Murdoch’s company secured a five-year, $2.6 billion IPL deal in 2017. The two-month series of matches is a major highlight of the Disney+ direct-to-consumer product.

With over 250 million households and almost as many households watching TV, India is a hotspot for media companies looking for skyrocketing streaming subscriber growth. Disney beat analysts’ estimates in its latest quarter, registering 130 million subscribers, thanks to Disney+ Hotstar in India, where subscribers grew 57% year-over-year, three times the pace from the United States and Canada. India accounts for more than a third of all Disney+ customers.

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Disney boss Bob Chapek is keen to keep the IPL in the auction scheduled for March or April. But he thinks even without cricket he can attract customers with local content and other Disney fare like the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. It sticks to predictions that Disney+ will have up to 260 million subscribers worldwide by the end of the third calendar quarter in 2024.

Retaining the rights will force Disney out of its conservative comfort zone. The winning bid is expected to cost up to $6.7 billion, according to Reuters read more. Rivals will likely include Reliance Industries joint venture of Mukesh Ambani (RELI.NS) and US media company Paramount Global (PARA.O), with backing from James Murdoch and Uday Shankar – two aggressive industry executives who got the IPL rights for Fox. Sony Pictures Networks India, which has agreed to merge with local broadcast powerhouse Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEE.NS), will also be on board. Amazon.com could be a spoiler.

Without cricket, Disney’s market leadership position seems in serious doubt. Its main US rival is issuing a warning: Netflix cut the cost of a basic subscription in India by 60% in December to accelerate growth. The House of Mouse will have to channel its inner tiger.

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The views expressed are her own.)

BACKGROUND NEWS

– The Board of Control for Cricket in India will complete the broadcast and streaming rights auction for the Indian Premier League by March or April, group secretary Jay Shah told Reuters in an interview published on 20 February.

– Rights for the 2023-2027 cycle for the two-month series of matches could sell for 500 billion rupees ($6.7 billion), Reuters reported, citing industry sources.

– Walt Disney, Sony Pictures Networks India and Viacom18, a joint venture between US media company Paramount and India’s Reliance Industries, are all expected to submit bids.

– Media veterans Uday Shankar and James Murdoch are in talks with Reliance to acquire a stake in Viacom18, the Economic Times reported in January, citing unnamed sources. Shankar and Murdoch said on Feb. 9 that they had formed an investment firm called Bodhi Tree with a commitment of up to $1.5 billion in financial backing from the Qatar Investment Authority.

– Disney currently owns the rights to the IPL obtained through its acquisition of the international and entertainment assets of Twenty-First Century Fox, including in India. Fox’s Star India paid $2.6 billion in 2017.

– Disney is taking part in an investor conference organized by Morgan Stanley on March 7.

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Editing by Una Galani and Oliver Taslic

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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and non-partisanship by principles of trust.