Disney outbid by Viacom18 for Indian cricket streaming deal

The recent bidding war for Indian Premier League (IPL) streaming rights found Disney on the losing end to Viacom18 – a joint venture between Paramount Global and Reliance Industries. Viacom18’s win was confirmed by Jay Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in a Tuesday tweet.

According to Variety, Viacom18 agreed to pay $2.63 billion for a five-year package of regional digital rights. Disney, which has held the TV and digital rights to IPL for the past five seasons, won a $3.01 billion bid to keep its broadcast rights in that same time period.

The total cricket package amassed to $6.2 billion. Viacom18 also bid an additional $417 million for a non-exclusive package covering 98 matches, Variety wrote. India-based tech company Times Internet won the rights to stream matches in the U.S., Middle East and North Africa for $135 million, while Viacom18 also won streaming rights in the U.K., Australia and South Africa.

“The BCCI will utilize the revenue generated from IPL to strengthen our domestic cricket structure starting from grassroots, to boost infrastructure and spruce up facilities across India and enrich the overall cricket-watching experience,” Shah wrote in a reply to his original tweet.

Disney told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday it decided not to pursue the bid because the price was too high.

“We chose not to proceed with the digital rights given the price required to secure that package,” the company said.

This isn’t the first time Disney has backed out of a bidding war for sports streaming. It was reportedly unwilling to pay as much as Apple or Amazon for NFL’s Sunday Ticket, though the winner of those rights hasn't been announced. 

There’s also the question of how losing this streaming deal will affect the Disney+ subscriber base. As of Q1 2022, Disney reported a total of 137.7 million Disney+ subscribers, including India’s Disney+ Hotstar.

While CEO Bob Chapek projected in 2020 that Disney+ would reach 260 million subscribers by 2024, the loss of IPL streams may cause Disney+ to lose 20 million subscribers, according to Bloomberg. Hotstar makes up about 50 million of Disney's global subscriber base.

“IPL drives customer acquisition,” Vivek Couto, executive director of Media Partners Asia, told the publication. “It’s regarded as entertainment not just sports by Indian households - women and men.” 

Sports coverage is gaining momentum in the streaming space. Apple, for instance, just scored a 10-year deal with Major League Soccer. So it makes sense why Disney was itching to nab the IPL deal.

But Disney could use its cricket losses to reprioritize its streaming targets, according to WSJ’s Dan Gallagher.

“Walking away from the IPL deal shows Disney isn’t willing to pay any price just to keep its subscription numbers up,” he wrote.