Uday Shankar, James Murdoch to acquire 40% stake in Viacom18: Reports

Shankar will reportedly play a crucial role in the operations of the company.

Mumbai: Lupa India, the investment company set up by former Star & Disney India chairman Uday Shankar and his boss from Star James Murdoch, is under negotiations for picking up a 40 per cent stake in Viacom 18, say media reports.

Viacom 18, which runs television and digital entertainment channels, is currently a joint venture by Reliance Industries Ltd’s TV 18 (51 per cent) and Viacom CBS (49 per cent). With this deal, the latter is expected to turn into a minority player with 10 per cent stake, while RIL will retain its share.

Lupa India is reportedly investing Rs 12,000 crore in Viacom18, the reports said. Most of the investment is said to be through the primary infusion of funds that will be used to build the company’s sports and entertainment verticals across both the broadcasting and digital businesses.

According to reports, Uday Shankar will play a key role in the operations of Viacom 18 as the media conglomerate looks to enter the big league of sports business. He was instrumental in establishing Star as a formidable player in sports broadcasting. As the then CEO, he usurped the IPL rights from Sony in 2017 by paying double the amount (Rs 16,347 crore) for half the number of years. Star had also paid Rs 11,880 crore to win the bid for ICC tournaments for a period of eight years.

With mounting consolidation in the media broadcasting sector, the focus of the industry has shifted to sports, especially cricket, and digital as a whole. While Viacom18's sports portfolio today includes NBA (National Basketball Association), FIFA World Cup 2022, Italy's popular football league Serie A, the Spanish football league LaLiga, ATP Masters (tennis) and Abu Dhabi T10 (cricket), winning the rights to the most popular cricketing event, the IPL rights, seems crucial for the broadcaster to be able to take on the Disney-Star and Zee-Sony juggernaut.

In a bid to further build its sports vertical, in September, Viacom 18 appointed former Star Sports EVP Anil Jayraj as CEO-sports. The other two key appointments made in December were that of Siddharth Sharma (former Star Sports SVP) as EVP - sports and Mallika Petkar (former Disney+ Hotstar - head of SMB growth strategy) as SVP- sports.  

Two major cricket broadcasting rights including the five-year broadcasting and digital rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the eight-year contract for broadcasting and digital rights for various World Cup championships held by the International Cricket Council (ICC) will be auctioned this year.

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