IPL rights & Uday Shankar: Ambani's master plan to take over Disney!
Just close your eyes, and think of all the things that remind you of your childhood.
Let me start, the summer holidays, ice creams, dairy milk, TV, Star plus, Kasauti Zindagi ki, Kahani ghar ghar ki.
While most things that made our childhood beautiful are long gone now, one thing that is still up and thriving is Star India.
Be it the iconic Kahani ghar ghar ki or Anupama, its shows have kept ruling the hearts of Indian women.
Its melodramatic, sentimental, cringe-worthy shows have lightened the living rooms of most Indians.
Star India is in a league of its own, it is for one company to be the successful and second thing to be successful for decades. With a valuation of $ 14 billion and revenue of more than Rs. 12,000 crore, it is an indisputable king in the TV broadcasting segment. But, Just like in soap operas, companies also have their fair share of Utar chadav and the hero of the serial saves everyone!
Even with Star, it had its share ups and downs and had a hero that not just saved the company but also made it the biggest media company. Star was losing its shine in 2007 when a lot of new players like Zee, and Sony came up fresh and it all seemed like the end for our old school Star.
But then a man joined Star in 2007 as a CEO. A fierce man who inculcated a spirit of entrepreneurship in an established company. A man who was unpretentious, free-spirited, the man who built the largest broadcast company in India, which was owned by an American company Fox.
His story is like no other, he started his carrier as a journalist at Zee tv and went to become a news director at Aaj Tak, after which he joined Media Content and Communication Services India Pvt Ltd (MCCS)—a joint venture between the Kolkata-based ABP Group and Star India as chief executive, that’s where he caught the attention of Murdocs, who owned Fox.
It is a rare phenomenon when a journalist is made a CEO, but that was the charm of that man.
After he came on board, he made some bold decisions, some of which were to shut all the shows of Balaji production and gave away the rights of shows like KBC, because he believed that the company relied a lot on outsourced content and being into a creative business it wasn’t creating anything.
He went to spread its wings into sports broadcasting, and he not only successfully scaled Star sports but also owned their leagues, like pro kabaddi league and rights of IPL.
He understood, that if he had to capture the heart of Indians, they had to produce regional content, and launched channels like Star Jalsha in West Bengal, Star Pravah in Maharashtra, and the acquired Asianet and Maa TV to strengthen its foothold in India’s southern states.
Furthermore, he forayed into the digital space with Hotstar in 2015, a lot before its domestic and international peers entered India, early entry and Indianized content have made Hotstar, the top OTT platform in India.
While Disney+ Hotstar has 43 million subscribers, its rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime are nowhere close to it with 5 million and 17 million subscribers respectively.
Hotstar has captured the OTT market and accounts for 29 percent of the total viewership. The platform's income in 2020 was a whopping 16 billion Indian rupees.
This man understood the importance of regional content quite early in his career, which Netflix is still to figure out.
The man who knew digital is the future is none other than Uday Shankar.
Who with his entrepreneurial spirit has scaled the broadcasting platform to new heights.
But all good things come to an end, after Disney took over Fox, In 2020, he left the company because he did not feel things were the same after the acquisition.
If you believe this was the end of Uday’s story, it isn’t. The 59-year-old man hasn’t left the top position in the media industry just to retire and play golf.
He wants to invest in edu-tech, health tech, and to fulfill that he formed an investment firm Lupa systems ( now called Bodhi tree ) in partnership with his previous boss James Murdoch who headed Fox.
This was one story about Uday Shankar, there is another story of a man we all know, Mukesh Ambani, one thing that is prominent and reflects his attitude in business is that he wants to rule all the industries and he isn’t okay with being the second or third best in any sector. Jio is a living example of that.
In Ambani's empire, Viacom is one such business. Viacom 18 is into the media and entertainment industry and operates more than 59 channels like Colors, Colors rishtey, Mtv etc. It also operates an OTT platform Voot.
The company is a joint venture between Reliance Industries-owned TV18 Broadcast Ltd and the American media conglomerate ViacomCBS Inc. (formerly Viacom Inc.); TV18, whose immediate holding company is Network18 Media and Investments, owns 51% of this venture.
We aren’t saying that Viacom 18 is not a good company, but it is certainly not the best in the sector. The company generated a revenue of Rs 3,286 crore and a profit of Rs 583 crore in the year ended 31 March 2021, while Star India, made 11,761.90 crores in revenue in the same period.
Ambani has been looking to scale its business and most importantly increase its digital presence, as its OTT platform Voot has been a laggard when in the industry.
He went on talks with other channels, Sony and Zee, but the talks didn’t work out, rather both channels merged creating a powerful entity that ranked second in the industry after Star.
He wasn’t happy being at the bottom, that’s when he saw an opportunity in Uday Shankar. He was the best man to run any media company. And when Ambani wants anything he gets it!
Reportedly Uday Shankar’s investment firm invested around Rs. 13,500 crore in Viacom 18 and this isn’t just an investment but a time where the fate of Viacom 18 could change because Uday would be personally overseeing the operations.
Also, one reason Ambani wanted Uday was because of IPL rights, in his previous stint with Star, he had acquired the digital rights of IPL for Hot star and he knew that Sports and OTT are intricately weaved together, a live sports event on an OTT platform could garner a lot of audience on the platform.
According to a report from Wall Street Journal: Disney said that around half of 7.9 million subscribers in the quarter came just before the IPL season in March.
So, the recent acquisition of IPL rights by Viacom 18 is just the beginning of a new era in the media and entertainment industry.
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