James Murdoch’s fund slashes investment in Reliance-backed Viacom18


James Murdoch’s venture fund Bodhi Tree slashed its planned investment into Viacom18 to $528 million, down 70% from the committed $1.78 billion, the two said late Thursday as the global weakening economy hammers investors’ appetite.

Viacom18, a joint venture between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and Paramount Global, did not say why Bodhi Tree slashed its pledged investment. The planned investment was initially scheduled to close by October last year, according to an earlier statement.

Murdoch announced Bodhi Tree with his long-time collaborator Uday Shankar last year. Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, is the largest investor in Bodhi Tree. Bodhi Tree pledged an investment of $1.78 billion into Viacom18 in the fund’s maiden backing in April last year.

Reliance, which owns majority of Viacom18, said in a statement that it’s contributing $1.32 billion to the media giant, up from the planned $216 million.

“The partnership will enable Viacom 18 to innovate and disrupt the M&E sector, with Uday Shankar and James Murdoch providing strategic and operational guidance to Viacom 18, leveraging their track-record of building iconic media businesses. Uday Shankar has been appointed to the Board of Viacom18,” Reliance said in a statement.

As part of the investment, Viacom18 said last year that it will supercharge JioCinema, an on-demand video streaming service owned by telecom giant Jio Platforms. Reliance and Viacom18 have made the streaming of IPL cricket tournament free to anyone with an internet connection in India in a push to court customers away from Disney, whose Hotstar app won over 50 million subscribers on the back of wild popularity of cricket content.

Viacom18 – a venture between Ambani’s Reliance and Paramount – recently outbid Disney to secure five years of IPL’s streaming rights for the Indian subcontinent region with a sum of $3 billion.

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

The duo earlier ran a fund called Lupa that invested in a number of Indian startups including short-video platform and news aggregator DailyHunt and edtech DoubtNut.

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 Snap in Asia, 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.

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