RIL, Lupa Systems prepare for IPL rights auction with new joint venture

Bodhi Tree Systems, a platform promoted by Lupa Systems and Shankar, said it was investing Rs 13,500 crore in Viacom18

Lupa Systems, promoted by media veterans Uday Shankar and James Murdoch, and Reliance Industries (RIL) have announced a new partnership for investment in sports and entertainment broadcasting four months after the two began exploring options for the same.

On Wednesday, Bodhi Tree Systems, a platform promoted by Lupa Systems and Shankar, said it was investing Rs 13,500 crore in Viacom18, a JV between RIL’s TV18 and ViacomCBS, now rebranded as Paramount Global.

Reliance Projects & Property Management Services, a subsidiary of RIL, would invest an additional Rs 1,645 crore in the company. The JioCinema app would be transferred to Viacom18 as part of the deal, a statement said, as sought to become a streaming-first major. Viacom18 owns and operates the suite of Colors TV channels and OTT platform VOOT.

The partnership between RIL and Lupa comes as they prepare to bid for the media rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the 2023-27 seasons. The auction is slated to be conducted in June. Viacom18 launched its sports channel Sports18 last week, as a first step in its foray into sports broadcasting in India.

Nitin Kukreja, managing director, India, at Lupa Systems, is likely to be named the chief executive officer of the new venture, informed sources said.

Bodhi Tree Systems, which is leading a fund raise with a consortium of investors for the proposed Rs 13,500-crore investment in Viacom18, intends to pick up a 39 per cent stake in Viacom18 from ViacomCBS, which has a 49 per cent stake, informed sources said. RIL, which has a 51 per cent stake through TV18, a subsidiary of Network18, will retain its shareholding.

Apart from Kukreja, who has a strong background in sports broadcasting, having been CEO of Star Sports in 2016, Viacom18 has also appointed Anil Jayaraj, also formerly with Star Sports, as the head of its sports business.

Viacom18 has also picked up the tender document for the IPL media rights auction along with competitors such as Disney-Star, Sony, Zee and Amazon, as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) looks to reap a windfall by setting nearly Rs 33,000 crore as the combined reserve price for the rights under four packages.

The competition is expected to be fierce as Disney-Star looks to retain the media rights for television and digital. RIL-Lupa will also compete with Sony along with Zee, with whom it is merging, and Amazon.

As the former boss of Star India and then Disney, Shankar played a key role in pushing Disney-Star into sports. Star grabbed the media and digital rights for the IPL from Sony during Shankar’s tenure by paying double the amount that Sony had paid in the first media rights auction for half the number of years. Star also paid Rs 11,880 crore to win the bid for ICC tournaments for eight years.