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Disney has been weighing strategic options for its business in India including an outright sale or setting up a joint venture. Image Credit: REUTERS

Mumbai: Walt Disney is holding preliminary discussions with potential buyers for its India streaming and television business including billionaires Gautam Adani and Kalanithi Maran, according to people familiar with the matter.

The US entertainment giant’s senior executives have also gauged the interest of private equity funds considering the company is exploring a range of options, which could involve selling part of the Indian operations or a combination of the unit’s assets including sports rights and regional streaming service Disney+ Hotstar, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Asset-sale talks have already been held with Reliance Industries, controlled by Asia’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, Bloomberg News reported earlier on.

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Disney has been weighing strategic options for its business in India including an outright sale or setting up a joint venture, Bloomberg News reported in July after the unit lost its streaming rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament to Viacom18 Media. Viacom is a joint venture between Reliance, Paramount Global and Uday Shankar’s investment firm Bodhi Tree Systems.

A potential acquisition could complement Maran’s broadcasting company, Sun TV Network, while for the Adani Group, it could help expand its newly acquired New Delhi Television, the people said. They added that deliberations are still at a very preliminary stage and any deal may not happen.

Representatives for Disney in India declined to comment. Sun TV Network Group Chief financial Officer S L Narayanan said the group doesn’t comment on market rumours or speculation. A spokesperson for Adani also said they wouldn’t comment on market speculation.

The discussions around the sale of Disney’s India unit show how the market dynamics have been disrupted ever since Ambani’s conglomerate scooped up the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League for $2.7 billion and chose to broadcast it for free earlier this year. Ambani scored another win by bagging a multi-year pact to broadcast Warner Bros Discovery’s HBO and other content that was previously with Disney.

Disney is now using Reliance’s playbook and streaming the ongoing Cricket World Cup in India for free - a move aimed at clawing back some subscribers even if it means sacrificing revenue in the cricket-crazy nation of 1.4 billion people.

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Disney, however, is likely getting a boost as marquee global brands line up to tap India’s massive consumer base, with advertising slots being sold at $3,600 a second.

Disney Star, which holds the exclusive TV broadcast rights for the event in India, said in a statement Wednesday that it’s partnering with 26 sponsors, including heavyweights like BV and liquor company Diageo Plc.

Cricket is by far the most popular sport in the South Asia nation and attracts more than $1.5 billion in sponsorship and media spending every year, according to research from Jefferies LLC, or about 85 per cent of all sports-related spending in the country.

Even as Disney Star has battled sliding subscriber numbers after losing the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League, the media group hasn’t ceded the entire cricket business, securing the television rights through 2027.

Last year, Disney Star agreed to license the TV rights for International Cricket Council men’s matches to ZEE Entertainment Enterprises for four years, with Disney+ Hotstar retaining the digital rights.