Sony withdraws from $10 billion merger with Zee Entertainment in setback for streaming ambitions

The Japanese conglomerate cited unmet closing conditions as the reason behind the termination of the definitive merger agreements. Sony’s decision comes amid reports that the company expressed reservations about having Zee’s CEO, Punit Goenka, lead the combined entity due to an ongoing regulatory probe.

Sony has officially announced its withdrawal from a previously agreed-upon $10 billion merger with Indian media giant Zee Entertainment. The deal, which was struck in 2021, aimed to bolster the companies’ competitive stance against streaming rivals like Disney, Amazon, and Netflix in India’s vast entertainment market.

The Japanese conglomerate cited unmet closing conditions as the reason behind the termination of the definitive merger agreements. Sony’s decision comes amid reports that the company expressed reservations about having Zee’s CEO, Punit Goenka, lead the combined entity due to an ongoing regulatory probe.

Issues surrounding the deal have been brewing for some time, with Sony expressing concern about Zee’s declining profits since 2021. The collapse of the merger leaves both Sony and Zee vulnerable, especially as rival Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) negotiates a potential merger with Disney’s India unit, according to Bloomberg News.

RIL, owned by Mukesh Ambani, India and Asia’s wealthiest individual, could reshape the competitive landscape further. The failed deal puts Zee in a challenging position, forcing the company to reconsider its strategy and potentially leaving it short of capital. Sony had committed to injecting $1.3 billion into the merger, a financial lifeline that Zee will now have to seek elsewhere.

Vivekanand Subbaraman, a media analyst at Ambit Capital, noted that the collaboration between Sony and Zee was not only about television but also about addressing Zee’s struggles in the digital space. Sony’s streaming service, Sony LIV, was considered more successful and a larger business than Zee’s Zee5.

Subbaraman pointed out that the competitive landscape and overall market condition underwent a significant transformation with the emergence of reports on the RIL-Disney merger. The dynamics of the Indian entertainment market, valued at tens of billions of dollars, are evolving rapidly, particularly with the projected expansion of smartphone adoption in the coming years.

Sony, in its official statement, mentioned engaging in good-faith discussions to extend the deadline for closing the deal but revealed that the discussion period had lapsed without an agreement. Despite the setback, Sony emphasized that it does not anticipate any material impact on its consolidated financial results resulting from the termination.