Huge merger for Zee and Sony Entertainment in India

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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The merger will pose a direct challenge to top rival Walt Disney, which owns streaming platform Hotstar

Japanese conglomerate Sony's Indian arm has finalised a deal with local rival Zee Entertainment to form the country's second largest entertainment network.

The merged entity will include more than 75 television channels, film assets and two streaming platforms.

It is poised to become a major player in the country's fast-growing entertainment industry, challenging rivals such as Walt Disney's Hotstar.

India has more than 900 million TV viewers and some 800 channels.

These channels offer a variety of shows ranging from sports, melodramas to reality television.

As per the merger, which was announced on Tuesday, the combined entity will be nearly 51% owned by Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI). It will be headed by Zee's Chief Executive Officer Punit Goenka after a 90-day due diligence period.

Mr Goenka called the deal a "significant milestone".

"The combined company will create a comprehensive entertainment business, enabling us to serve our consumers with wider content choices across platforms," he said, according to an official release.

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Both firms have operated in India for years and own streaming platforms ZEE5 and SonyLIV. They also have a vast TV following with popular channels such as Sony MAX and Zee TV.

"It's a hugely complementary deal," media and entertainment industry specialist Vanita Kohli Khandekar stated.

"For example Sony does not have the pan-India, small town and regional reach that Zee has. And Zee does not have a kids or sports business like Sony."

Ms Khandekar said the deal will also propel Zee onto an international stage. "The company has now been absorbed by Sony, a $82bn (£61bn) corporation. So, Zee now becomes a foreign company, which gives it a bigger platform."

Although most Indians are still dependent on direct-to-home TV entertainment, the country is also a lucrative destination for streaming platforms that have been tapping into the vast internet market to target a young digital audience.

The past few years have seen a surge of competition from streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar as many users desert television for digital shows.

Experts say the merger between Sony and Zee is expected to further ratchet up this competition.

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