James Murdoch’s fund cuts investment in Viacom backed by Reliance18

James Murdoch’s fund cuts investment in Viacom backed by Reliance18

James Murdoch's fund cuts investment in Viacom backed by Reliance18

James Murdoch’s venture capital fund Bodhi Tree cut its planned investment in Viacom18 to $528 million, down 70% from the $1.78 billion committed, the two men said on Thursday evening as that the weakening of the global economy hammered the appetite of investors.

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

Murdoch announced Bodhi Tree with longtime collaborator Uday Shankar last year. Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, is Bodhi Tree’s largest investor. Bodhi Tree pledged a $1.78 billion investment in Viacom18 as part of the fund’s first backing in April last year.

Reliance said in a statement that it is contributing $1.32 billion to Viacom18.

“The partnership will enable Viacom 18 to innovate and disrupt the M&E industry, with Uday Shankar and James Murdoch providing strategic and operational guidance to Viacom 18, leveraging their experience building iconic media companies. Uday Shankar has been appointed to Viacom18’s board of directors,” Reliance said in a statement.

As part of the investment, Viacom18 said last year it would boost JioCinema, an on-demand video streaming service owned by telecommunications giant Jio Platforms. Reliance and Viacom18 have made streaming of the IPL cricket tournament free to anyone with an internet connection in India in a bid to woo customers away from Disney, whose Hotstar app has gained more than 50 million subscribers thanks to the wild popularity of cricket content.

Viacom18 – a venture between Ambani’s Reliance and Paramount – recently outbid Disney to secure five years of IPL 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 on more than a billion screens”.

The duo previously ran a fund called Lupa which had invested in a number of Indian startups, including short-form video platform and DailyHunt and edtech news aggregator DoubtNut.

Shankar began working with Murdoch when he oversaw News Corp’s Asian operations in the late 2000s. The Indian entrepreneur left Disney at the end of 2020 after spending two years as Asia Pacific President and President of its operations in India.

He helped the struggling Indian television network in 2007 become one of the country’s largest media groups. Alongside Ajit Mohan, who has since served as Snap’s Asia executive, the duo helped the company enter the streaming business with Hotstar, which has since amassed hundreds of millions of users and is a jewel in the crown of Disney’s streaming game.


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