Potential Antitrust Issues In The Reliance-Disney Merger

Questions loom over the Reliance-Disney deal, sparking discussions on competition concerns.

The merger between Reliance Industries Ltd.'s Viacom18 and Walt Disney Co.'s Star India is the biggest combination in the country's media landscape.

This collaboration, d at over Rs 70,000 crore or $8.5 billion, gives the merged entity a virtual monopoly over cricket broadcasting rights, a combined total of 120 TV channels, and two OTT platforms: Disney Hotstar and Jio Cinema.

Given the magnitude of this deal, it begs the question as to what issues will spring up before the competition regulator prior to green-lighting the merged entity.

Precedential Value Of The Failed Zee-Sony Merger

In 2022, the Competition Commission of India reviewed the now-failed Zee-Sony merger and identified their individual and combined market shares in different markets. Since Viacom and Star were two of their biggest competitors in the entertainment industry, the regulator’s order approving the combination has details pertaining to their market shares as well.

The regulator had identified the supply of TV channels as a relevant market, which was further sub-segmented into general entertainment channels, or GECs, films, etc.

The CCI noted that the combined market share of Sony-Zee was 40–45% in Hindi GEC and 35–40% in Hindi films, which would have caused competition law concerns. 

Accordingly, the CCI required the parties to divest channels in these segments to address competition concerns and bring down their market shares, Ela Bali, partner at JSA Advocates & Solicitors, told NDTV Profit.

Interestingly, the combined market shares of Disney-Reliance in the Hindi GEC and Bengali GEC segments were 40-50% and they were as high as 60–70% in the Marathi GEC segment.

With these market shares, the CCI will closely scrutinise the merger and may ask for some remedies as a condition of approval, like divestment of channels, to ensure a level playing field, Bali said.

However, Rahul Singh, Professor of Competition Law and Policy at NLSIU, Bangalore said that considering the horizontal and vertical overlaps involved in the merger deal, divestment (if not outright prohibition) should ideally take place but it is highly doubtful that it will take place, considering the political nature and past CCI precedents such as Future Retail/Amazon.

Monopoly Over Sports Broadcasting

The merged entity is set to monopolise cricket broadcasting in the country, as Viacom18 owns the digital rights to the Indian Premier League, while Disney owns the television rights to it. Disney Star India also won the overall rights for International Cricket Council events during 2024–2027, including the Cricket World Cup.

Apart from cricket, Viacom18 has exclusive broadcasting rights for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games in India.

The biggest challenge in this case is almost the near monopoly rights this merged entity will have with respect to sports in India, given the Indian populace’s sentiments towards cricket. It would only be right for the regulator to come up with divestiture packages to deal with this monopoly in sports broadcasting, said Avirup Bose, Professor of Competition Law Policy at Jindal Global Law School.

However, it isn't expected that the regulator will come up with a remedy wherein it asks the merger entity to divest its exclusive broadcasting rights pertaining to cricket, Bose said.

Bose added that given CCI’s track record, the regulator generally takes the route of voluntary commitments, even in cases of problematic mergers and this one will likely go through on similar lines.

Also Read: Reliance, Disney Merger May Impact Subscriber Tariff, Advertisers’ Bargaining Power: Experts

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Varun Gakhar
Varun Gakhar is a legal journalist at NDTV Profit. He obtained his degree i... more
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