Viacom18 is the new online home of Indian Premier League cricket for the next five years, while Disney’s Star India will remain the sports broadcaster on TV.
Fast-growing Viacom18, a joint venture between Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries, Paramount Global and Bodhi Tree Systems, the investment company backed by James Murdoch and Uday Shankar, will get an overnight surge in Indian video subscribers as soon as the next IPL season begins. But the firm paid heftily for the privilege: $2.6 billion (205 billion rupees) for the digital rights to the league on the Indian subcontinent for 2023-2027, according to local news outlet The Times of India.
The Walt Disney Company shelled out a sizable $3 billion (235.75 billion rupees) to keep the exclusive TV rights to the sport for the next five years, according to multiple local sources. Compared to digital, which remains a speculative longterm bet for India, the television cricket rights are much more readily monetizable, with ad sales still growing at a steady clip. Sony Pictures Networks India, which held the TV rights before Disney’s Star India took them in 2017, is said to have bid aggressively before eventually letting the package go to Disney.
Bidding on two additional rights packages — TV and digital broadcast rights outside India; and non-exclusive rights for select matches, including the tournament opener and some knockout games — remained underway late Monday in India and was expected to stretch into Tuesday.
Star India, acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2019 from 20th Century Fox, shelled out about $2.2 billion (163.5 billion rupees) for all digital and TV rights to the league during the previous 2017-2022 cycle. This time around, the administrators of the rights auction, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, opted to split the media property into four packages — a strategy that appears to be paying off mightily.
The auction began Sunday and has played host to fierce competition, despite U.S. tech giants Amazon, Alphabet and Apple opting at the last minute to sit on the sidelines. Bidding has been driven by Viacom18, Disney’s Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India, while India’s pay-TV channel Zee and others also bid for digital rights.
The most popular sport in the world’s second-most populous nation, the IPL is considered the crown jewel of sports rights in cricket-mad India, a property akin to the NFL in the United States. Holding the rights is believed to be an overnight accelerator for both TV viewership and digital consumption in India, a market that tech and entertainment giants are targeting as a significant longterm growth opportunity. At the current rate of bidding for all of the rights packages — totaling $5.6 billion and counting — the IPL is expected to become the second-most valuable sports league in the world on a per game basis, still trailing the NFL but topping English Premier League soccer for the first time.
The steep price tag likely gave some of the deep-pocketed media players competing for it pause, however. Attention was especially focused on Disney, with some analysts speculating that the House of Mouse would play it safe given the surging cost of the rights and recent reassessments of the economics of the direct-to-consumer model.
IPL cricket has been viewed as the pillar of Disney+ Hotstar’s leading position in the vast Indian streaming market, where the service counted approximately 43 million subscribers in the most recent financial quarter, representing a whopping 30 percent of Disney+’s worldwide subscriber total. The challenging economics of the Indian streaming market likely led the House of Mouse to let the rights go, however. In the second quarter, Disney earned just 61 cents a month per Indian user, compared to an ARPU of $6.32 in North America and $6.35 in international markets excluding India. Many Disney analysts had urged CEO Bob Chapek to approach the auction with short-term financial discipline foremost in mind.
June 13, 5:35 p.m.: Updated to reflect Disney’s acquisition of the IPL TV rights.