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: Disney skips out on digital rights to key Indian cricket league as streaming wars intensify

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Amid a fierce global battle for streaming content, Walt Disney Co. has opted against keeping the streaming rights to a popular Indian cricket league amid hefty bidding prices in a recent auction.

The company has owned the valuable television and streaming rights to India Premier League, a popular cricket league, for the past several years, but it was willing to skip out on the next five years’ worth of rights as bidding amounts climbed.

Viacom18, a joint venture between India’s Network18 Group and Paramount Global
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ended up taking home the 2023-2027 IPL streaming rights. Jay Shah, the honorary secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, tweeted that Viacom18 paid about 238 billion rupees, which equates to roughly $3 billion.

Disney
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-1.87%

retained the TV rights to the league, paying a reported $3 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which cited “multiple local sources.” The cost of rights has surged since the last auction, when 21st Century Fox, since acquired by Disney, scooped up the TV and streaming rights for a reported $2.2 billion combined.

“We are pleased to extend our association with the Indian Premier League and look forward to offering the next five seasons across our portfolio of television channels,” Rebecca Campbell, Disney’s chairman of international content and operations, said in a statement provided to MarketWatch. “We made disciplined bids with a focus on long-term value. We chose not to proceed with the digital rights given the price required to secure that package.”

Disney’s statement did not mention the price paid for the TV rights.

Viacom18 and Paramount Global didn’t respond to a MarketWatch request for comment on Viacom18’s participation in the auction or the price it paid for streaming rights.

Disney has used its current IPL streaming rights to bolster its Disney+ Hotstar service and help amass additional subscribers.

Read: Top Disney TV exec Peter Rice departs abruptly

The auction has been the source of some anxiety on Wall Street, as Disney’s IPL rights “transmogrified into a symbolic representation of the streaming wars,” Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall wrote prior to the reports of the winning bids.

He noted that investors would be left to “decide if DIS overpays with a winning bid, or forgoes the rights to rationalize streaming economics but potentially putting Hotstar sub guidance at risk,” though he thought that “the focus on IPL rights is overly dramatic.”

“The EPS impact of a loss-making bid is minimal even at a big premium, while the subscriber impact of not renewing rights is also not a stock mover,” he continued in a note to clients last Thursday.

See also: Netflix stock keeps falling after ‘sell’ call from Wall Street’s most bearish analyst

Following reports earlier this week about Viacom18’s winning bid for the IPL streaming rights, Cowen & Co.’s Doug Creutz wrote that Disney’s move to walk away was “prudent for its P&L [profit and loss], though it will also make its FY24 Disney+ subscriber target more difficult to reach.”

He added that the TV rights, which Disney retained, “are significantly more monetizable with steady ad sales growth relative to the more speculative growth play in digital.”

Shares of Disney are off 2.0% in Tuesday afternoon trading and on track to log their eighth straight trading day of declines. That would mark the company’s longest losing streak since the eight-session period that ended July 28, 2016, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

The stock has dropped 39.4% year to date, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average
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-0.48%

has slumped 16.5%.

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