Reliance and Viacom18 announced an alliance with Bodhi Tree Systems, a platform of Lupa Systems’ James Murdoch and former Walt Disney Asia Pacific head Uday Shankar, on 27 April 2022.
Bodhi Tree Systems is leading a fund raise of Rs 13,500 crore in Viacom18 from a consortium of global investors.
The stated objective is to jointly build ‘India’s leading entertainment platform and pioneering the Indian media landscape’s transformation to a streaming-first approach’.
Expectations are high from the Murdoch-Uday Shankar duo, often credited as the force behind the rise of the Star TV Network in India. Will the media veterans’ magic work for Viacom18?
MediaNews4u.com reached out to industry veterans to understand what the alliance means. And specifically, what the Uday Shankar-James Murdoch duo bring to the table in the present day.
The OTT Opportunity
According to Karan Taurani, SVP, Elara Capital, the broadcast business has an ad revenue share of 13 percent, next only to Disney Star and ZEE, it has more than doubled its EBIDTA over the last three years, to over 20 percent. However, its share of AVOD is just 2 percent.
“This partnership will provide great expertise from Uday and James, who have been stalwarts of the TV industry and have been the reason for Star’s success in India. It will also provide an edge over the competition on the OTT offering, if they are successfully able to win the IPL rights in the recent cycle,” he says.
“It will also help leverage the expertise of Lupa Systems on the digital and OTT offerings – as Voot remains at the bottom of the pyramid vs other broadcasters’ OTT apps,” he adds.
Besides the global distribution possibilities of Viacom18 content, Jio’s network could also power distribution to the last mile locally, he notes.
An industry veteran who did not wish to be named, observes, “It is widely believed that their focus will be to take on Star on Sports (read cricket primarily) and the OTT platform (Hotstar). Zee will also get stronger with the Sony merger, as their renewed focus is expected to be on sports, and Zee5 & Liv. Reliance is doing this to thwart any threat that may come from Star & Zee-Sony.”
Bharat Ranga, Managing Director, Beginnen Media and Media Maven adds, “Viacom 18 has efficient All India Network Share in TV and negligible share in Digital. Efficient because they have lesser products to generate 8-9% share. Uday and James realise this that Viacom is younger and more efficient network and has far lesser legacy issues. Their Star experience would be quite useful to build this network further. Also James and Uday know very well that while future lies in mobile and Internet based video market, but TV remains profitable medium and hence Co-play shall remain as long as its audience base and revenue attraction remains. Therefore it’s a beautiful marriage of resources and capabilities.”
A Legacy To Live Up To
Chintamani Rao, Strategic Marketing & Media Consultant, captures the enormity of the development in a few lines. He says, “Uday Shankar by himself is a powerful force. He has been a mover and shaker in the broadcasting industry in India, and beyond India as well. With specific reference to sports, Uday made Star India the dominant player in sports broadcasting in the country. The combination of Uday and James Murdoch is formidable, and the two of them combined with Reliance will make an irresistible force.”
“Uday Shankar, over the last decade, has pretty much defined the Indian media landscape with aggressive investments into the Star TV Network, and morphed it into what it is today. Highly aggressive, Uday had effectively managed to take some unusual risks that worked massively in Star’s favour. James Murdoch, on the other hand has media practically running in his bloodstream. This alliance, therefore, will forge yet another inevitable force with unprecedented financial power and strategic vision to shape the media landscape in the coming decades, ” adds Pankaj Krishna, Founder, Chrome Data Analytics and Media.
Mitrajit Bhattacharya, Independent Consultant and Content Producer, underlines that “in Uday and James, Reliance finds perfect partners who can help the network achieve scale and consolidate offerings that range from streaming services to television channels. He adds, “Uday and James bring in years of experience of running the number one entertainment and sports network in the country (and the world) and that helps.”
“The vision seems to be to create an entity where entertainment from all genres could be available on one mighty platform. Also, to see if one can establish the concept of “streaming first”. James Murdoch and Uday Shankar are well-established leaders who have, in their own way, changed the landscape of the broadcasting industry over the years. Uday must be remembered as someone who was able to envision what viewers would want to consume in a futuristic way. And he was willing to commit to that with all the resources that were needed,” explains Ramesh Narayan, ad veteran and Founder, Canco Advertising.
A partner like this is exactly suited to the grand Ambani style where scale is of prime importance and control over the entertainment industry in all its forms has been a definite plan, he says.
A Word of Caution
Some genres in which Viacom18 has a sizeable presence, that is infotainment and English entertainment, have seen a severe negative impact due to digital and OTT, points out Elara’s Karan.
He also sounds a word of caution: “IPL rights are estimated to be sold at a 50pc premium over and above the base price of INR 33,000cr; in case TV18 ends up winning the TV rights, it will be tough to attain profitability over near term due to constant pressure on TV ad growth rate, eyeballs shifting to digital consistently leading to lower viewership numbers.”
Will we see cricket in the portfolio in the near future? Bhattacharya surmises, “Only time will tell.”
That could have a bearing on how successful the alliance turns out to be. For now, it is expected to make history.
Rao notes, “Uday plays the big game, as does Murdoch. Reliance plays a long game, and it plays to dominate any category it is in. Each of them couldn’t have chosen better partners to match their ambition. If I were CEO of Star Disney or of Zee-Sony, I would be thinking very hard and having sleepless nights.”