Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Takes Stake in Eros International

Giant gasoline-to-entertainment conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited has struck a powerhouse pair of corporate deals with Eros International, India’s leading film distribution and production finance group.

Reliance Industries is buying a 5% stake in New York Stock Exchange-listed Eros and will pay $15 per share. That implies a cost of $36.2 million. In early trading Tuesday, Eros shares rose 13% to $14.45, making for a market capitalization of $897 million.

Separately, Reliance Industries is to set up a jointly controlled production and acquisition fund with an initial capital of $150 million.

Reliance Industries is controlled by Mukesh Ambani, elder brother and business rival of Anil Ambani, whose Reliance ADAG Group and Reliance Entertainment are known quantities in Hollywood. Reliance Industries is the joint venture partner of Viacom in India and controls a stable of TV channels. In the past 18 months it has also opened for business Reliance Jio, a game-changing mobile broadband network built at a reported cost of $23 billion.

The closer connections will also lead to key personnel changes. Jyoti Deshpande, CEO and MD of Eros, will become head of media and entertainment businesses at Reliance Industries from April 2018. She will remain non-executive director of Eros. Kishore Lulla will resume his position of group chairman and CEO at Eros.

Reliance Industries said Deshpande has been tasked to “organically build and grow businesses around the content ecosystem such as broadcasting, films, sports, music, digital, gaming, animation etc., as well as integrate RIL’s existing media investments such as Viacom and Balaji Telefilms with a view to build, scale and consolidate the fragmented $20 billion Indian M&E sector.”

Mukesh Ambani was a latecomer to the Indian media sector. But he is proving to be a force for consolidation and for crossover between digital and traditional media sectors. His opening gambit in 2018 was a significant investment stake in Network18, the Indian group that controlled TV18 and in turn the joint venture with U.S. media giant Viacom. In the following six years he has taken control of Network18, launched Jio, and forced other telecoms and pay-TV groups to react.

Earlier this month, TV18 bought control of Viacom18 by acquiring a 1% stake and lifting its shareholding to 51%. That deal valued the business at $2 billion.

It followed the announcement of another deal in December for Reliance Jio to buy the telecoms infrastructure of Anil Ambani’s struggling phones group Reliance Communications. The value of that deal has not been disclosed.

Core to understanding the deal with Eros is Eros’ massive film library and its growing online film platform Eros Now. The backing of Reliance Industries’ deep pockets and infrastructure gives Eros the opportunity to accelerate the investments in Eros Now, and to resist the encroachments of global streaming services Netflix and Amazon.

“I am very pleased that Eros is partnering with RIL in its entertainment journey with several synergies across technology, content and digital with Eros Now. We look forward to collaborating and growing as we continue to make new strides on the digital and content forefronts,” Lulla said in a statement.

Eros is set to unveil its third quarter financial results on Wednesday.

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