Using its exclusive rights to one of the most watched sporting events in the world to compete with Walt Disney Co. and Amazon.com Inc. in India’s booming media market, billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s conglomerate will stream Indian Premier League cricket matches for free, according to people familiar with the situation.
Viacom18 Media Pvt. was awarded the IPL streaming rights last year for $2.7 billion, beating out rivals Sony Group Corp. and Disney.Viacom18 Media Ltd. is a joint venture between Paramount Worldwide and Ambani’s conglomerate, Reliance Industries Ltd. Formerly, Disney held the rights and made use of them to increase streaming service Disney+ Hotstar’s subscriber base.
According to the people, who requested anonymity since the decision hasn’t been made publicly known, Viacom18 is adopting a different strategy and making the games available to as many users as possible in order to earn advertising sales. Free media platforms like Google and Facebook are significantly more popular than for-profit premium services like Netflix, and they produce billions of dollars in advertising revenue for the nation.
The weeks-long IPL games are expected to draw an audience of over 550 million viewers, according to executives at Viacom 18, boosting the conglomerate’s internet and technology ambitions, which include everything from online retail to entertainment.
The series of contests for this year will begin on March 31 and stretch for over eight weeks, with each match lasting only around three hours. Users will be able to watch any number of games for any amount of time on any internet-connected device thanks to Viacom 18.
Reliance has a well-known game plan because it provides mobile service at a significantly lower price than the competition, attracting hundreds of millions of subscribers and driving competitors out of business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s largest telecom operator by market share with close to 500 million subscribers, is owned by Ambani’s conglomerate. The five-year IPL contract gives it a unique opportunity to profit from a competition known as the Super Bowl of cricket.
The cost of cricket rights increased last year as various media companies sought them out to expand their fledgling streaming businesses. India is accelerating the adoption of the internet, and both domestic and international media behemoths regard India as a catalyst for growing their subscriber numbers. Disney, which had previously held the IPL streaming rights, lost that auction but won the TV broadcast rights by outwitting Sony. After finishing the first auction paperwork, Amazon, another bidder, withdrew at the eleventh hour.
Ambani secured the sale by shelling out over three times what Disney had in the prior agreement. Disney Hotstar then spent an additional $3 billion to purchase the standard TV package. Ambani made a joint bid for the IPL rights with Paramount, James Murdoch, a media mogul, and Uday Shankar, the former CEO of Hotstar.