James Murdoch’s Bodhi Tree invests $1.78 billion in Ambani-backed Viacom18

The Indian conglomerate Reliance and Viacom18 have inked a strategic partnership with Bodhi Tree, an “investment platform” run by James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems and former Disney executive Uday Shankar, in a push to turn the Ambani-backed network, which operates over three dozen television channels in nine languages and streaming services, into “one of the largest TV and digital streaming companies” in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Bodhi Tree is investing $1.78 billion in Viacom18, which also counts Paramount Global among its backers, as part of the partnership, the companies said Wednesday.

The collaboration will also see JioCinema, an on-demand video streaming service owned by Reliance, transferred to Viacom18, the firms said. Reliance Projects and Property Management Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, is additionally investing $216 million in Viacom18, it said.

Paramount Global, formerly known as ViacomCBS, will continue to be a shareholder and supply its large catalog of global content to Viacom18.

The Wednesday’s announcement comes at a time when India’s entertainment and sports broadcasters industry is going through a consolidation. Zee Entertainment and Sony merged last year to create one of India’s largest media conglomerates.

“James and Uday’s track record is unmatched,” said Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, in a statement.

“For over two decades, they have played an undeniable role in shaping the media ecosystem in India, Asia and around the world. We are very excited to partner with Bodhi Tree and lead India’s transition to a streaming-first media market. We are committed to bringing the best media and entertainment services for Indian customers through this partnership,” said Ambani, who is one of Asia’s richest men.

The deal is expected to close within six months.

The announcement follows Viacom18’s push to expand its focus to sports streaming. Late last year, Viacom18 bought rights for American basketball league the NBA. Reliance is also expected to be a major bidder for the upcoming cricket rights of Indian Premier League.

In a joint statement, Murdoch and Shankar said they seek to “reshape the entertainment experience across more than 1 billion screens.”

The duo — who through Lupa have invested in a number of Indian startups including short-video platform and news aggregator DailyHunt and edtech DoubtNut — announced Bodhi Tree, a $1.5 billion investment firm, in February this year. The firm, backed by the Gulf State’s sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority, seeks to focus on investing in India and the broader Southeast Asia region.

Shankar began working with Murdoch when he was overseeing News Corp’s Asia business in the late-2000. The Indian entrepreneur left Disney in late 2020 after spending two years as its president for the Asia-Pacific region and chairman of its India operations.

He helped the struggling Indian television network in 2007 into becoming one of the nation’s largest media groups. Alongside Ajit Mohan, who has since moved to the leadership position for Facebook in India, the duo helped the firm enter the streaming business with Hotstar, which has since amassed hundreds of millions of users and is a crown jewel in Disney’s streaming play.