Disney Reaches Deal to Sell Controlling Stake in Star India to Reliance

The mega-merger will enable Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries to create the country’s largest media and entertainment business

Bob Iger and Mukesh Ambani
Bob Iger and Mukesh Ambani (Credit: Getty Images)

Disney has signed a nonbinding term sheet to sell a majority stake of its India operations to billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries in a mega-merger that will create the country’s largest media and entertainment business.

The Economic Times of India reported news of the deal Monday, citing individuals with knowledge of the agreement.

The stock-and-cash merger will reportedly see the Ambani-led group get 51% of Disney’s Star India business to Disney’s 49%.

The value the two parties agreed to put on the company is still unknown. Earlier reports had Disney valuing the asset at about $10 billion, while Reliance had targeted to be worth between $7 billion and $8 billion.

The report said the handshake deal was reached by Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive tapped by Disney CEO Bob Iger in July to consult on strategy, and Manoj Modi, a trusted aide to Ambani, who Forbes named the richest person in India in October, with a net worth of $92 billion.

Disney acquired Star India in the $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in 2019.

The studio reportedly began exploring options for the property in July, shortly before the House of Mouse announced the year’s second round of major budget cuts, with $3 billion in content costs on the chopping block after the Hollywood strikes. That followed an earlier round of cutting that shaved $5.5 billion from Disney’s spending and included 7,000 layoffs.

The deal is expected to be finalized in early 2024, The Economic Times said. While Reliance is “keen to wrap it up by January end,” it will likely be February by the time needed regulatory approvals are completed.

Through a joint venture known as Viacom18, Reliance is the co-owner of JioCinema, a top competitor of Disney+ Hotstar in India, which outbid the company for the five-year streaming rights to India Premiere League cricket matches last year.

JioCinema will also be included in the business combination, CNBC’s India affiliate reported.

Disney shares opened down 21 cents at $90.81 following the news. The stock is basically flat for the year.

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