Reliance-Disney merger may impact subscriber tariff, advertisers’ bargaining power: experts

The announcement of the merger has induced fears of monopoly and increased challenges for smaller industry players due to loss of market share.

Published : Mar 01, 2024 17:27 IST - 4 MINS READ

Sectoral experts have expressed concern over the impact of Walt Disney and Reliance Industries’ Viacom18 on the media and entertainment industry and its players.

Sectoral experts have expressed concern over the impact of Walt Disney and Reliance Industries’ Viacom18 on the media and entertainment industry and its players. | Photo Credit: Dado Ruvic

The merger of the Indian media business of Walt Disney with Reliance Industries’ Viacom18 will have a big impact on the Indian media and entertainment sector with lower tariffs for subscribers likely to come to a gradual end while the bargaining power of advertisers will be negatively impacted, according to sectoral experts.

Moreover, the proposed merger, which is expected to receive approvals by the first quarter of 2025, also has to pass through the scrutiny of the fair trade regulator Competition Commission of India (CCI), they said.

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The merger will create a Rs 70,000 crore behemoth, which will have over 70 channels from Star India and 38 TV channels from Viacom 18 in eight languages, along with two large OTT platforms—Jio Cinema and Hotstar, and two film studios owned by each of them.

“The honeymoon period of Indian Subscriber will gradually come to an end. Subscriber rates both in digital and linear TV may go up,” Nuvama Institutional Equities Executive Director (Research) Abneesh Roy said. Further, he said the merger is also potentially slightly negative for advertisers as the bargaining power of the merged entity will be higher.

Expressing similar views, Elara Capital senior vice-president, Karan Taurani said the “monopoly in sports properties may lead to higher ad revenues” of the merged entity. Disney and Jio collectively control approximately 75 to 80 per cent of the Indian sports market across both linear TV and digital platforms, he added.

“This dominance in sports, primarily cricket, positions them to command a substantial share of the overall ad market, showcasing strong growth in an industry where sports is a key driver of viewership on both linear TV and digital platforms,” Taurani said.

In 2022, sports adex (advertising expenditure) in India stood at Rs 7,100 crore jointly for TV and digital, in which Disney India had a contribution of 80 per cent. The combined entity will have lucrative sports properties like the Indian Premier League (both TV and digital), ICC cricket tournaments (both TV and digital), Wimbledon, Pro Kabaddi League, BCCI domestic cricket etc.

He further said, “Since the merged entity will be the biggest player in the Indian TV industry, the merger will require CCI approval which may take some time or lead to shut down of channels in case of a big overlap, more within the general entertainment channels (GECs) genre.” Similarly, Roy said, “Some channels would need to be divested/shut in our view, just like in ZEE-Sony where some tail channels had to be sold off/shut.” Earlier, when Sony Group was in talks with the merger of its Indian media entity with Zee Entertainment, then CCI had granted conditional approval. It suggested divesting three GECs by them.

According to Roy, this merger of the Viacom18 and Disney Star business “will also be negative for other telecom players as Jio will have a much more superior access to content, potentially also slightly negative for advertisers as bargaining power of the merged entity will be higher”. The merged entity is expected to command a digital OTT market share of 34 per cent, while the TV viewership share in the top 10 channels (according to Broadcast Audience Research Council [BARC]) is 40 per cent as of calendar year 2023, said Taurani.

“The consolidation between Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and Disney on the India TV side could have a negative impact on other linear TV broadcasters, such as Sun TV, Zee, Sony, and others, as they may not be scale up on market share,” he said.

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The merged entity’s focus on maximising market share through increased investments in content, synergies, and enhanced marketing power poses challenges for individual broadcasters to compete and grow. “With a large customer base across various genres, including regional genres and urban GEC, the combined entity aims to dominate key markets, potentially leading to market share loss and challenges for other players, including the possibility of smaller channels shutting down,” he said.

According to NV CAPITAL Managing Partner Vivek Menon, the entity has the most coveted sporting spectacle like the IPL and the World Cup under its belt. “This juggernaut will be a force to reckon with when it comes to all the spheres of the media & entertainment and sports ecosystem namely advertising, subscription, OTT, sports, and content acquisition,” he said.

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