By Baiju Kalesh, Anto Antony and P R Sanjai
(Bloomberg) -- Sony Corp. is in talks to acquire a stake in the Indian television network controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, as the Japanese giant seeks to tap booming demand for content in the South Asian nation, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Tokyo-based company is currently conducting due diligence on Ambani’s Network18 Media & Investments Ltd. before any possible offer, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not public. Sony is considering several potential deal structures, including a bid for the company or a merger of its own Indian business with Network18’s entertainment channels, one of the people said.
Talks are at a preliminary stage and may not result in a transaction, the people said. Shares of Network18 surged as much as 19% in Mumbai on Thursday, while unit TV18 Broadcast Ltd. jumped 9.7%.
While a successful deal may help Sony bolster its local offerings and take on upstart rivals such as Netflix Inc., it will give Ambani access to international content. The Indian tycoon’s wireless carrier, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., has spent almost $50 billion in the past few years on its network to disrupt India’s telecommunications industry and has been luring users by offering local and overseas programming.
“Our company evaluates various opportunities on an ongoing basis,” a spokesman for Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., said in an email, declining to comment further. Representatives for Sony in India and Japan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.
The talks come at a time when competition is heating up for paying viewers in a potentially lucrative market with more than half a billion smartphone users. Streaming companies such as Netflix to Amazon.com Inc. Prime are increasingly offering programs created locally to lure subscribers. Ambani’s Jio, while having the technology platform, is limited by the paucity of content it can stream, making such a deal with Sony crucial.
“India is a massive OTT market, and any international OTT play will need to bolster its local strategy,” said Utkarsh Sinha, managing director at Bexley Advisors, a boutique firm in Mumbai, referring to over-the-top or streaming media services. “More partnerships or strategic alliances like this are likely in the next year or so.”
Reliance Industries, the oil-to-petrochemicals conglomerate, unveiled plans last month to set up a digital-services holding company to fulfill the mogul’s ambitions for an e-commerce platform aimed at taking on the likes of Amazon.com and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart Online Services Pvt.
Sony operates in the South Asian country through Sony Pictures Networks India, which has a bouquet of channels including Sony Entertainment Television, reaching over 700 million viewers in India.
TV18 Broadcast owns and operates 56 channels in India spanning news and entertainment. It also caters to the global Indian diaspora through 16 international channels.
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