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Zee-Disney Star deal: Is cooperation the new norm?

Unpacking how the Zee-Disney Star ICC men’s cricket deal will help the media companies.

By  Saumya Tewari & Tasmayee Laha RoySep 2, 2022 6:27 PM
Zee-Disney Star deal: Is cooperation the new norm?
Analysts believe the deal will help Zee to up its sports content, attracting more ad and channel subscriptions. Disney Star will mitigate its concentration risk in one market when it comes to TV rights. (Representational image via Unsplash)

In a rare development, arch rivals in the broadcast industry -- Zee Entertainment Enterprises (Zee) and Disney Star – have forged a strategic licensing agreement this week.

As per the agreement, Disney Star will license the TV broadcasting rights of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s and under-19 global events for a four-year period to Zee for an undisclosed amount. Disney Star will continue to have exclusive digital rights for its digital platform (Disney+ Hotstar). Zee will make staggered annual payments from CY24 onwards.

Disney Star had won the rights to telecast the ICC tournaments till 2027 for $3 billion after a closed-loop bid process last week.

That deal included both digital and television rights for men's and women's ICC tournaments. It was a big plus for Disney Star, which had lost the digital rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the 2023-27 cycle to Viacom18 in June.

The agreement with Disney Star enables Zee to be the exclusive television rights holder of ICC men’s events, including the coveted ICC Men’s T20 World Cup (2024, 2026), ICC Men’s Champions Trophy (2025), and the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (2027), along with key ICC U-19 events.

What do they gain?

Industry analysts believe this deal will help Zee to up its sports content, attracting more ad and channel subscriptions. Disney Star will mitigate its concentration risk in one market when it comes to TV rights and continue to ride the digital wave.

Sandeep Goyal, managing director, Rediffusion, believes that it almost seems like a pre-mediated deal.

“The understanding could not have been reached overnight. In a way, it’s good for both. Disney Star can now concentrate on the selling of IPL, while Zee can put its fullest might behind the ICC offering. The arrangement is a bit unusual but cooperation is the new norm across industries,” he notes.

The deal comes in at an opportune time for Zee as it awaits the merger with Sony.

Will it generate profits?

“If they (Zee) didn’t have this deal, they would have lost an opportunity to own any major India cricket event rights till 2027,” says Naval Seth, Deputy Head of Research at Emkay Global Financial Services. Seth’s analysis says the expensive value of rights such as these often do not end up bringing in any profit.

“The understanding could not have been reached overnight. In a way, it’s good for both. Disney Star can now concentrate on the selling of IPL, while Zee can put its fullest might behind the ICC offering. The arrangement is a bit unusual but cooperation is the new norm across industries,” says Sandeep Goyal

“The prices for these rights (IPL and ICC India cricket events) have gone through the roof and recovering them would become increasingly difficult for the networks. That explains why Star, which has been dominating the India cricket broadcast space, decided to sell part of its rights,” Seth says.

Brilliant and functional move

Some experts are calling it a brilliant and functional move.

Ramsai Panchapakesan, senior-vice president and national head, integrated media buying at Zenith, says four large networks control the complete live sports (cricket) telecast space and each of them have traditionally been very protective about their rights.

But things are changing. The splitting of IPL rights between two large networks has set a new way of scaling up revenue opportunity as the audience pool will get added, when it comes to more than one network.

This has set an optimistic precedent and only goes to show how recovering the sheer volume of money that is invested in these rights becomes a Herculean task for a single network alone, he said.

“The spread is now larger,” notes Panchapakesan. The Zee-Star deal, according to him, has been further strengthened in terms of exercising the might of big media houses to interplay on their own merits.

Why Zee Network?

Panchapakesan breaks it down.

According to him, among the top four networks, Zee is the only 100 percent Indian broadcasting company with deep roots in the markets. Zee is now the single-largest network after it announced a merger with Sony. This deal only widens the horizons for amplifying reach.

As for Zee, this is a scale-up, Panchapakesan says. “Zee is a pioneer in entertainment and regional content, and, in the recent past, marque live cricket events were the missing piece. GEC can fetch limited vertical growth and there is a need to go for horizontal expansion to grow revenue. Hence, no wonder this alignment is highly strategic and it’s a first-of-its-kind partnership in the Indian media and entertainment landscape,” he says.

“The prices for these rights (IPL and ICC India cricket events) have gone through the roof and recovering them would become increasingly difficult for the networks. That explains why Star, which has been dominating the India cricket broadcast space, decided to sell part of its rights,” says Naval Seth

More collaborations on the anvil

Vinay Hegde, chief buying officer, Madison Media, says that the Star-Zee strategic alliance to telecast all ICC Men’s events for 2024-27 is the first-of-its- kind in India. It is similar to how Sky Sports and BT Sports collaborate to broadcast the Premier League.

"For Star, this could also be to ensure the recovery of their huge investments, including IPL and 2024-27 ICC events, and balance their books. For Zee, which has in the past made some unsuccessful forays into sports, this gives an opportunity to also try and establish themselves as the destination for cricket and maybe more. It’s another avenue to monetise, considering cricket is a religion in India, and will have its dedicated viewers," he adds.

For the viewers, this will now mean adding Zee channels to their bouquet (in addition to Star, Sony, Viacom18), making the viewing pool wider for cricket buffs and might have a positive impact on subscription packages.

"Considering investments in acquiring sports broadcast and streaming rights is increasing, this deal could open the doors for more such strategic collaborations in the future to widen the net, enabling better monetisation to recover the investments," Hegde concludes.

Disney Star had retained the television rights of IPL for Rs 23,575 crore, whereas the digital rights were picked up by Viacom18 for Rs 20,500 crore.

Back to merger: About the Zee-Sony deal

A merger between the Indian unit of Japan's Sony and Zee Entertainment to create a $10 billion TV enterprise will potentially hurt competition by having "unparalleled bargaining power", the Competition Commission of India's (CCI) found in an initial review, according to a report by Reuters.

The country's antitrust watchdog on August 3 sent notice to the two companies stating the watchdog is of the view that a further investigation is merited. The CCI's findings are likely to delay regulatory approval of the deal and could force the companies to propose changes to its structure as well.

Sony and Zee in December 2021 decided to merge their television channels, film assets and streaming platforms to create a powerhouse in a key media and entertainment growth market of 1.4 billion people, challenging rivals like Walt Disney Co.

First Published on Sep 2, 2022 12:04 PM