‘Uday Shankar & James Murdoch's entry will fire up Viacom18's sports biz’

Media watchers say the deal will prove beneficial for Viacom18 as Shankar and Murdoch are not just bringing funds but also their expertise in running a large-scale media company

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Jan 27, 2022 8:26 AM  | 5 min read
Uday Shankar & James Murdoch

Uday Shankar, ex-CEO of Star India, and his former boss James Murdoch, who was the CEO of 21st Century Fox, are re-entering the TV broadcasting business in India. The duo, who together run a joint venture (JV) called Lupa Systems, is eyeing a large stake in Viacom18, which is currently the fourth-largest TV network in India in terms of revenue.

According to a report in a leading English business daily, the two executives plan to acquire a 40 per cent stake in the media network, which is a 51:49 JV between Reliance Industries and ViacomCBS. While Reliance will continue to hold a majority stake in the company, ViacomCBS will get diluted to 10 per cent. The report further stated that the deal will see Shankar and Murdoch infusing Rs 12,000 crore into Viacom18 with primary fund infusion forming a bulk of the investments. This deal will value the company at Rs 30,000 crore.

Media watchers say the deal will be beneficial for Viacom18 as Shankar and Murdoch will not just bring funds but also their expertise in running a large-scale media company. They also say that Viacom18's sports business will get a significant boost particularly since Shankar and Murdoch are big believers in the power of cricket and sports.

"Viacom18 will be a big contender for IPL and other cricket rights. The entry of Uday Shankar and James Murdoch will give a major boost to Viacom18. Uday's experience will be invaluable to Viacom18. Currently, Viacom18 is at the third spot after Star and Zee-Sony, but it will look to grow its presence in the market," said Triplecom Media iTap Founder and CEO Kunal Dasgupta. ViacomCBS might not be keen on India as they have their own set of problems in the US, he added.

A veteran media watcher said it would be interesting to watch out for Uday Shankar's role in Viacom18. "It will be interesting to see what Uday Shankar's exact role in Viacom18 is going to be. Will Uday drive the Viacom18 business operationally or not is the main question because what he brings to the table is his expertise in running a media empire. If you look at the Zee-Sony deal, Punit Goenka will continue to be the MD and CEO despite Sony having a majority stake. A similar arrangement is possible between Uday and Viacom18," the executive explained.

He also noted that the development highlights that ViacomCBS doesn't see India as a key market. "ViacomCBS would have felt that it was not worth investing billions of dollars on cricket rights. If IPL requires a Rs 40,000 crore bid then that is a huge commitment, which ViacomCBS wouldn't have been comfortable with. Internationally, ViacomCBS has its own priorities as they are working closely with Comcast to build a global streaming business," the executive stated.

A top official with a leading media company said Viacom18 has been scouting for strategic partners for a while now. Earlier, the Reliance-owned company had held talks with Sony for a possible merger deal that didn't fructify. "They held talks with Sony, but it didn't materialise into a deal. With Uday and James coming in, they have finally got a strategic partner on board. The new investors will buy secondary shares from ViacomCBS, and then they will bring some money into the company," the official said.

The deal comes close on the heels of a merger between Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). The Sony-Zee deal has created a media behemoth with a strong presence across TV, digital and film segments. With most media companies gunning for scale, Viacom18 surely didn't want to be left behind in the game.

2022 looks set to be a ‘make or break’ year for top media companies like Star India, Sony-Zee, and Viacom18 as the media rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the International Cricket Council (ICC), and possibly BCCI are coming up for renewal. All three properties are currently held by Star India, which is now owned by Disney. Shankar with Murdoch's support as the 21CF CEO had made Star Sports the home of cricket after entering the sports business in 2012.

Viacom18 recently ventured into sports broadcasting with the appointment of former Star Sports Ad Sales Head Anil Jayaraj as the CEO of the division. The buzz in the market is that the network is planning to launch Sports18 and Sports18 HD in a few weeks from now. The network has acquired rights to properties like FIFA World Cup, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue1, NBA, and Abu Dhabi T10 series. It is also a strong contender for the IPL, ICC and BCCI media rights.

Viacom18 owns and operates 46 channels that reach out to 80 countries in eight languages. It has a presence across the Hindi GEC space and niche genres such as youth, kids, and English GEC. In the Hindi GEC space, it operates channels such as Colors, Colors HD, Colors Rishtey, and Rishtey Cineplex, while it is present in the English GEC segment through Comedy Central, Vh1, and Colors Infinity.

While in the youth genre it has channels like MTV and MTV Beats, in the children’s genre the portfolio is represented by channels such as Sonic, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr. In the regional category, it operates entertainment channels in Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Odia, Kannada, and the Tamil markets.

For the fiscal ended 31st March 2021, Viacom18 Media reported 65% growth in net profit at Rs 582.89 crore compared to Rs 353.54 crore in FY20. The company's revenue from operations dropped by 15.37% to Rs 3276.32 crore for the fiscal under review as against Rs 3871.65 crore.

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