Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) and Zee Entertainment have moved one step closer to forming a combined entity by signing definitive agreements to merge, which would create a vast outfit led by Zee CEO Punit Goenka fit to take on the U.S. streaming giants in the nation.
News of the potential merger first emerged in late September when the two parties entered into an exclusive non-binding term sheet to bring together their linear networks, digital assets, production operations and program libraries.
The deal required a 90 day period of due diligence and the pair have now signed definitive agreements to merge ZEE with and into SPNI. Months of regulatory review and approval will now follow.
The new entity, which would be publicly listed and led by Goenka, stands to overtake Disney’s Star India as the country’s biggest player, according to Reuters, bringing together 75 news, entertainment, sports and movie channels including Sony Max, Zee TV and streamers such as ZEE5 Global. Goenka had been under pressure at Zee amidst calls for a management reshuffle, according to reports.
The plan is for the business to be majority owned (51%) by SPNI, with Zee’s founders taking 3.99%. SPNI will have a cash balance of $1.5BN at deal close to invest in enhancing the combined company’s digital platforms across technology and content, while giving it the finance to bid for major sports rights.
Most of the combined company’s board will be nominated by the Sony Group and include current SPNI CEO N.P. Singh as chairman of Sony Pictures India, a division of SPNI parent Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE).
The move comes as the competition for Indian eyeballs ramps up. In a surprise move, Netflix last week significantly lowered the cost of subscriptions in the country, slashing the basic plan by 60% to just $2.62 per month.
At the same time, ZEE5 Global struck an agreement with local content studio Applause Entertainment that will see the latter create multiple Hindi shows for the streamer as ZEE5 originals.
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