James Murdoch’s Bodhi Tree Leads $1.78 Billion Viacom Investment Backed by Ambani18 – TechCrunch
Indian conglomerate Reliance and Viacom18 have signed a strategic partnership with Bodhi Tree, an “investment platform” led by James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems and former Disney executive Uday Shankar, to transform the network backed by Ambani, which operates more than three dozen television channels. nine-language channels and streaming services, into “one of the largest digital television and streaming companies” in the world’s second-largest Internet market.
Bodhi Tree is leading a $1.78 billion investment in Viacom18, which also counts Paramount Global among its backers, as part of the partnership, the companies announced Wednesday.
The collaboration will also see JioCinema, an on-demand video streaming service owned by Reliance, transferred to Viacom18, the companies said. Reliance Projects and Property Management Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, is additionally investing $216 million in Viacom18, he said.
Paramount Global, formerly known as ViacomCBS, will continue to be a shareholder and provide its vast catalog of global content to Viacom18.
Wednesday’s announcement comes at a time when India’s entertainment and sports broadcaster industry is going through consolidation. Zee Entertainment and Sony merged last year to create one of India’s largest media conglomerates.
“James and Uday’s track record is second to none,” Mukesh Ambani, president and CEO of Reliance Industries, said in a statement.
“For more than two decades, they have played an undeniable role in shaping the media ecosystem in India, Asia and globally. We are thrilled to partner with Bodhi Tree and lead India’s transition to a streaming-centric media market. We are committed to bringing the best media and entertainment services to Indian customers through this partnership,” said Ambani, who is one of the richest men in Asia.
The deal is expected to be completed within six months.
The announcement follows Viacom18’s efforts to expand its focus on sports streaming. Late last year, Viacom18 bought the rights to the American basketball league, the NBA. Reliance is also expected to be a major bidder for the Indian Premier League’s upcoming cricketing rights.
In a joint statement, Murdoch and Shankar said they seek to “reshape the entertainment experience on over a billion screens”.
The duo – who, through Lupa, have invested in a number of Indian startups, including short video platform and DailyHunt and edtech news aggregator DoubtNut – announced Bodhi Tree, a investment of $1.5 billion, in February of this year. The company, backed by the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority, seeks to focus on investing in India and the wider Southeast Asian region.
Shankar began working with Murdoch when he oversaw News Corp’s Asian operations in the late 2000s. The Indian entrepreneur left Disney in late 2020 after spending two years as Asia-Pacific president and chairman of its operations in India.
He helped the struggling Indian television network in 2007 become one of the country’s largest media groups. Alongside Ajit Mohan, who has since served as Facebook’s CEO in India, the duo helped the company enter the streaming business with Hotstar, which has since amassed hundreds of millions of users and is a jewel in the crown of Disney’s streaming game.