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Comcast invests in Bodhi Tree Systems

NBCU and Sky owner Comcast has invested in James Murdoch’s Bodhi Tree Systems, which in turn is becoming a key player in a new-look Viacom18.

Comcast-owned company NBCUniversal Media has paid an undisclosed amount for a shareholding in Bodhi Tree, which former Fox CEO Murdoch launched with ex-Star and Disney India Chairman Uday Shankar launched last year. The Competition Commission of India approved the investment on Wednesday.

Bodhi Tree has used some of this to finance a minority shareholding in Indian media group Viacom18, which is now under a new shareholding structure, following the completion of a planned partnership with Mukesh Ambani’s conglom Reliance Industries and Paramount Global that completed yesterday.

In effect, the trio has merged locally to create a major TV and films player. Notably, Reliance’s streaming and pay-TV service JioCinema integrated into TV channels and streaming operator Viacom18. JioCinema owns the rights to the massively popular Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket, after Viacom18 outbid competitors at an auction last year.

The complicated set of financial transactions have left Viacom18’s new shareholding structure that sees Reliance owning nearly 51% and Paramount just under 49%, with Bodhi Tree taking 0.11%.

However, Bodhi Tree is taking a far more important role than that suggests. Firstly, it will take a 17.8% share of convertible preference shares (effectively shared that can later be turned into ordinary shares or cash at a later date) and Shankar has taken a seat on the Viacom18 board. Reliance owns the other convertible shares.

If all the shares are diluted, Reliance owns 60.4%, Bodhi Tree takes 13.1%, Paramount 13% and TV18, another company ultimately owned by Reliance, taking the other 13.5%.

Last year, Bodhi Tree committed to raising 13,500 crore ($1.6BN) for investment in Viacom18, which at the time was majority owned by Indian manufacturing and media giant Reliance.

Viacom18 will have access to around $1.9BN in cash for growth, with about two-thirds coming from Reliance and the other third from Bodhi Tree, which counts the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, among its investors. A report suggests Bodhi Tree will now approach more investors to raise the rest of cash committed to Viacom18.

Murdoch, son of Fox Corp owner Rupert, was CEO 21st Century Fox between 2015 and 2019, but left when it was sold to Disney. He was also Chairman of Sky, having previously been CEO, but exited in 2018 when Comcast acquired the European pay-TV business. He later left his father’s News Corp operation and has since turned his attentions to investing in new businesses, initially through his Lupa Systems and later Bodhi Tree, when he united with Shankar. Yahoo! News

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