US giants in rumored swoop for Zee’s Indian OTT riches

Indian media firm Zee Entertainment has been the topic of takeover speculation over the past week from various corners of the industry, reportedly receiving bids from Comcast, Sony and Apple, while a couple of Chinese giants are said to be lingering too – as technology powerhouses the world over look to get a foothold over Netflix in the thriving Indian OTT landscape.

There is no coincidence rumors are swirling a mere four months after Zee revealed plans to launch its OTT video service Zee5 in over 190 countries, where it will adopt different models based on certain markets. Developed regions such as the US and UK will receive Zee5 as an SVoD service, while the Middle East and North Africa will get Zee5 as a freemium offering. Only Netflix and Amazon have a similarly ubiquitous presence, and billionaire founder Subhash Chandra has pledged to invest in 90 original programs throughout 2019 to complement its existing library of 3,500 movies.

Reliance Industries, owner of disruptive MNO Reliance Jio, is another rumored bidder, as is investment company Atairos, according to the Economic Times of India, although it is unlikely a foreign company would dive in with a full takeover, instead exploring an equal stake to work with a local partner. That would be wise given the diversity of languages in India.

Last year Faultline Online Reporter described Zee Entertainment as one of the country’s most exciting and progressive media companies, having just inked a three-year plan with Indian mobile behemoth Bharti Airtel involving the development of OTT video originals to attract “hundreds of millions” of new subscribers onto their respective platforms. Users of the Airtel TV mobile app will get access to content from the free-to-use Zee5 streaming portal, including on-demand originals, as well as 37 extra live TV channels to add to Airtel TV’s current offering of 368 channels. Considering Bharti Airtel has a mobile subscriber base of around 350 million, this deal is huge, and partnering with the country’s major operators is a cornerstone for Zee.

An anonymous industry official told the Economic Times of India, “The due diligence is ongoing. Most of the negotiations, management meetings are happening offshore. Some of the discussions are more serious while others are waiting in the wings and keeping a close tab. The April deadline is on track for now.”

China’s Tencent and Alibaba have both been thrown into the hat, although the source speaking to the Economic Times of India admitted no bid has yet been submitted by either.

It’s worth noting that Sony Pictures Networks India acquired Ten Sports Network from Zee Entertainment for $385 million in 2016. Ten Sports is headquartered in India, but its channels are also shown in the Maldives, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.