RIL to buy 5% in Eros; cos to set up $150 mn content fund

MUMBAI: Continuing its media march, which is also an indication of further disruptions in the Indian and global entertainment industry, the USD 51 billion Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is all set to acquire 5 per cent equity stake in NYSE-listed Eros International Plc (Eros) and jointly set up a $150 million (Rs 1,000 crore) fund to co-produce and consolidate content from India.

In the transaction, which is subject to regulatory and other approvals, RIL, through a subsidiary, is looking to pick up the minority stake at a price of $15 per share, representing an 18 per cent premium to the last closing price of the stock. Eros stock quoted at $13.30 on the NYSE at local US time of 16:01:15 on 20 February 2018, having opened at $13.25. RIL closed Tuesday at Rs 919.40 on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

RIL and Eros International Media Ltd (Eros India) will equally invest in the fund to produce and acquire Indian films and digital originals across all languages, according to a joint statement put out late on Tuesday evening.

RIL?s investment will also result in some management changes in both the companies. Eros? group CEO and MD Jyoti Deshpande will be stepping down from her executive role after over 17 years and move on to head the media and entertainment (M&E) business at RIL as the president of the chairman?s office.

Deshpande will start her role at RIL from April 2018 but will continue to remain as a non-executive director on the board of Eros, while Kishore Lulla will resume his position as group chairman and CEO of Eros, the statement added.

In her new role at RIL, Deshpande will lead the company?s initiatives in M&E to organically build and grow businesses around the content ecosystem, such as broadcasting, films, sports, music, digital, gaming, animation as well as integrate Reliance?s existing media investments such as Viacom18 and Balaji Telefilms with a view to build, scale and consolidate the fragmented $20 billion Indian M&E sector.

RIL chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani said, ?We are pleased to join hands with Eros, as it will bring further synergies into our plans, making for a win-win partnership. We are delighted to welcome Ms Jyoti Deshpande into the Reliance family and believe that she will not only give wings to our plans but also play a pivotal role in transforming the sector.?

Lulla elaborated, ?I am very pleased that Eros is partnering with RIL in its entertainment journey with several synergies across technology, content and digital with Eros Now. We look forward to collaborating and growing as we continue to make new strides on the digital and content forefronts. I am confident that together, we can make a meaningful difference. Jyoti Deshpande has been an invaluable part of the incredible Eros growth journey and I am confident that she will make a positive impact on the industry in her new role at RIL.?

Eros International Plc (NYSE: EROS) is a leading global company in the Indian film entertainment industry that acquires, co-produces and distributes Indian films across all available formats such as cinema, television and digital new media. Eros International Plc became the first Indian media company to list on the NYSE and also runs a fledgling OTT service under Eros Now brand. 

?I am delighted that RIL has strategically aligned with Eros. My new assignment at RIL will allow me to push boundaries, set new standards of excellence, assemble a world-class young leadership team and adopt a collaborative approach to architect and execute this ambition?but more than anything, I cannot wait to roll up my sleeves,? said Deshpande while commenting on the proposed partnership.

The Eros and earlier Balaji investments by RIL indicate that Ambani may be investing small in content and distribution companies, but taking big steps towards building an integrated media and entertainment behemoth, an industry observer opined, adding that with the financial muscle that the Ambanis have, the Indian media sector should brace itself for some more disruptions after the Reliance Jio show.

In the TMT sector, RIL already has investments in media companies like Viacom18 (majority stake), TV18/Network18, telecom company Reliance Jio and a host of other media properties, including magazines and digital ventures.

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