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With Star India, Disney emerges as India's largest M&E firm

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MUMBAI: Unlike the US, where the merger of The Walt Disney Co and 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets is between two near equals, the scenario in India is totally different. 21st Century Fox’s India venture Star India is a $1.7 billion dollar media and entertainment behemoth while Disney India is a minnow with just about $150 or so million in sales, including its theatrical releases, TV businesses, and merchandising and licensing of the Disney characters and brands.

For long, the mouse house has struggled to attain scale in India, like it has done in China with its $100 million box office theatrical releases and successful Shanghai Disneyland but it has not attained the success it would have wanted.

Acquiring Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV half a decade ago gave Disney four channels—Bindaas, Hungama TV, UTV Action and UTV Movies, apart from a film production studio which it shuttered last year despite having
a huge hit in the Aamir Khan starrer Dangal.  Other channels in its portfolio include Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney Channel HD, and Disney Junior HD.

The acquisition of Star India with its 61 channels, stakes in DTH operator Tata Sky, VOD service Hotstar, and in-film production and distribution has in one fell swoop catapulted it to the number one media and entertainment company status in India.

However, it’s most likely that Star India chairman & CEO Uday Shankar will be given the mandate to steer and drive the enthusiastic young and new management team in Disney India, in synergy with Star India.  Shankar has been focused on regional language entertainment channel expansion, sports and Hotstar at the powerful media firm–a portfolio he has grown since he took over in 2007.

Disney India is run by Abhishek Maheshwari–who was elevated to that position recently–following the promotion of Mahesh Samat as executive VP & managing director for South Asia.  How Shankar will manage the operations and whether he will restructure the management there will become clearer over the next few months.

Star India has lacked kids channels in its portfolio; the addition of the Disney channels will help complete that. 

Its Hotstar service has the most complete international portfolio and has had exclusive access to fresh Disney content, shows from HBO, Fox, CBS, and Showtime. And with it, Disney India will get more than 70 odd million active users consuming a multiple billion minutes a month of content.  

“It is going to be an unrivalled media and entertainment powerhouse,” says a media observer. “All other media companies pale in comparison in the country.”

The Tata Sky stake immediately brings into the Disney fold a satellite TV distribution platform making it a first for the company. UK satellite TV distributor Sky will most likely be the second one if the Murdochs’ bid for it in the UK gets the go-ahead from local authorities in time. 

Of course, the arrangement in India will give Disney access to the world’s most valued cricket league, the IPL, for which Star India bid aggressively this year–some say too much. Then there are other sports activities that it automatically gets, like the leagues for kabaddi, football, hockey, and badminton. But being a part of Disney will aid its larger partner, too; it will have the facility to dip into the former’s massive cash trove to aid Shankar’s aggressive growth and entrepreneurial urge whether on video-streaming expansion or in sports.

Interesting times are clearly on hand for the media and entertainment business in India.

Also read:

Comment: The rise and rise of Uday Shankar

Disney to buy 21st Century Fox assets for $52.4 billion

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