Viacom18 has won the rights to stream a package of popular cricket matches from the Indian Premier League, according to two people with knowledge of the bidding, snatching a significant weapon in the streaming wars away from one of its chief rivals, the Walt Disney Company.The deal makes Viacom18 — a joint venture between Paramount and India’s Reliance Industries — an increasingly powerful player in the Indian media market. It could also slow Disney’s quest to reach between 230 million and 260 million Disney+ subscribers globally by 2024.Viacom18 paid nearly $3 billion for the rights in an auction on Monday, according to the people, who would speak only anonymously because the bids were private. That price is a significant increase compared with the $2.5 billion price that 21st Century Fox paid for the combined TV and streaming rights package in 2017. Disney took over the rights when it bought Fox in 2019.Still to be determined is the outcome of an auction that will award the winner a smaller package of nonexclusive streaming rights.A spokeswoman for Disney had no immediate comment.The auction for cricket rights posed a messy equation for Disney. The company has at least 50.1 million subscribers in India, but those subscribers don’t pay as much as their counterparts in the United States. For Disney, which currently holds the streaming rights, the auction meant paying a premium to keep relatively low-revenue subscribers or ceding a valuable property to its rivals in the region.While Disney risks some subscriber erosion in its Disney+ business in India, the company’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, has said that the cricket matches are “not critical” to achieving its subscriber targets.By securing the streaming rights, Viacom18 gets a marquee property for its streaming service. The company recently received a $1.78 billion infusion from Bodhi Tree Systems, an investment firm created by the former 21st Century Fox executives James Murdoch and Uday Shankar.Since its inception 15 years ago, the Indian Premier League, the world’s largest cricket league, has turned the once-staid game into a commercial juggernaut. At $13.4 million per match, the league’s broadcast deal means Indian cricket, on a per-match basis, surpasses English Premier League soccer (about $11 million per match).Cricketers have become household names, earning multimillion-dollar contracts, and viewership for the league has soared on streaming platforms, though the number of television viewers has fallen this year.Sameer Yasir contributed reporting.
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