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India’s two richest men prep for war with Netflix, Amazon

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Asia’s two richest men — Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani — are doubling down on India’s media sector, intensifying competition in an arena where Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are also vying for more than a billion viewers.

Viacom18 Media Pvt., Ambani’s local joint venture with Paramount Global, is set to receive 135 billion rupees ($1.8 billion) in a funding round led by James Murdoch-backed Bodhi Tree Systems. Adani Enterprises Ltd., the tycoon’s flagship company, said separately that it has established a new media subsidiary, signaling his ambitions to tap the growing market.

The Viacom18 investment and Adani’s entry into media mark a new phase in the battle for eyeballs and content in a market with a robust local film industry, a growing middle class and rapidly expanding access to the internet. But it’s also proved to be a tough market. Struggling to add subscribers, Netflix, for instance, has had to cut its fees to lure price-conscious users. 

Still, “India is the only full-scale, high-growth opportunity in Asia outside of China,” said Vivek Couto, executive director at Media Partners Asia. “Indonesia is also there, but it’s still a few pegs down still in terms of scalability.”

Reliance shares climbed 1.5% in Mumbai on Thursday. TV18 Broadcast Ltd. plunged 18%, while Network18 slumped 20%.

While Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. is widening its footprint in the Indian media sector through his Network18 Media & Investments Ltd., Adani is just starting out. Last month, Adani Media Ventures Ltd. agreed to buy a stake in Quintillion Business Media Pvt., according to a statement. Quintillion was an Indian partner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News. 

With the $1.8 billion from Bodhi Tree and an additional $216 million from a Reliance arm, Viacom18 is preparing for an epic faceoff with Disney, Amazon and Sony Group Corp. for broadcast rights of Indian Premier League, or IPL, a prized annual cricket tournament that’s roughly equivalent to the Super Bowl. Bids are likely to exceed $5 billion, people familiar with the matter have said.

Last year’s edition of the IPL brought in 380 million viewers, and whichever broadcaster wins the rights will likely secure millions of new subscribers in a highly competitive market.

The investment by Bodhi Tree also marks the return of the Murdoch family to an entertainment market it ceded when Walt Disney Co. took over a swath of 21st Century Fox assets, including Star India, in 2019. Disney now owns Hotstar, a streaming platform popular with millions of cricket fans around the world.

Bodhi Tree is a newly formed platform between Murdoch and Uday Shankar, the former chief of Star India and later Disney Asia. Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, is an investor.

Separately, Adani group said Wednesday that it incorporated AMG Media Networks, adding it would focus on publishing, advertising, broadcasting and distributing content over different types of media networks. It didn’t elaborate.  

Just late last year, Sony and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., run by a local media mogul, agreed to a merger that would create a media behemoth valued at about $10 billion.

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