Disney and Viacom18 have won the five-year media rights for the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, people familiar with the matter said, beating rivals including Sony to a license that gave the California-headquartered giant a big leg up in amassing over 200 million subscribers.
Viacom18 — a venture between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and Paramount — scored the streaming rights for the Indian subcontinent region with a bid of $2.63 billion Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Disney bagged the television broadcast rights in the same region for a sum of $3 billion, another person familiar with the matter said. The auction for overseas streaming rights is underway and will resume on Tuesday.
Viacom18, which counts James Murdoch’s investment shop Bodhi Tree among its investors, Disney and Sony had no comment Monday.
Started in 2008, the Indian Premier League has helped boost the popularity of cricket in the country and beyond. For about two months each year, some of the world’s top players visit India to face off in three-hour matches for the title. Each match draws more than 50,000 fans to the stadium and hundreds of millions of individuals follow it on TV and online.
For the initial few years, eight teams participated in the tournament, but the number has since grown to 10 after Indian billionaire Sanjiv Goenka bought two teams for a sum of nearly $750 million and $950 million, respectively, figures that are far above the valuation of several clubs in English Premier League, the richest contest in football.
Disney, which through its subsidiary Star India held the previous five-year media rights for IPL, has seen the sporting event help its streaming service Hotstar attract tens of millions of subscribers and break several global streaming records.
Some analysts, however, had recommended the firm to drop out of the bidding because Indian subscribers don’t bring much revenue to Disney, making it difficult to justify the high price tag for the rights.
“I would like nothing better than if they didn’t get the IPL rights and walked back their subscriber number,” Michael Nathanson, a senior media analyst at MoffettNathanson, told WSJ earlier this month. “It would indicate a focus on financial discipline and return on capital.”
Without the streaming rights, Hotstar will face an increased pressure in retaining subscribers. The streamer says it has about 50 million paying subscribers. Disney CEO Bob Chapek has pledged to take Disney+’s subscriber base to 260 million by 2024.
Reliance had made clear its intention about the IPL rights in recent months. In the run up to the auction, TV network Viacom18 partnered with — and raised capital from — Murdoch and Uday Shankar’s firm Bodhi Tree. The duo previously ran Star India and their bet on Hotstar and cricket streaming made the Indian app a crown jewel in Disney’s portfolio.
“The global sports industry has emerged as a mega-growth opportunity, with US sports’ media rights revenue CAGR at 8.2% through CY12-21, accounting 45.2% of 2021 global media rights revenue. Of this impressive pie, soccer commands a lion’s share of 39%. However, of all the sports, cricket rules the Indian market, with a stupendous 94% share in media rights vis-à-vis a mere 3%, globally,” wrote analysts at Elara Capital earlier this month.
“Cricket may continue to enjoy such sheer dominance in India, medium term, propped by large-lucrative properties such as the Indian Premiere League (IPL). Thus, expect IPL renewal to underpin media rights growth in India, medium term.”
Amazon, another key player that had shown interest in bidding for the rights, backed out days before the auction. Meta, which bid for the streaming rights last time and secured some content rights for ICC cricket events three years ago, and Google were also expected to participate in the auction.