As Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp. gear up for a possible bidding war over a big chunk of 21st Century Fox , both companies are interested in Fox’s marquee Hollywood franchises like “The Simpsons,” “Avatar” and “X-Men.”
But among the most desired assets is Indian media conglomerate Star India, which is fully owned by Fox, people familiar with the situation said.
Comcast and Disney, neither of which has a big presence in India, each view Star India as an important piece in their plans to challenge Netflix Inc. and tap growth in emerging markets, the people said.
Star India reaches 700 million customers a month, with 60 channels in nine different languages; owns rights to air popular cricket tournaments; and has a stake in a production company that makes Bollywood movies.
Perhaps its biggest selling point now is Hotstar, a mobile-first streaming service that features its content and has 150 million active monthly users.
Around 80% of the content is free on Hotstar, with the company charging as little as 199 rupees ($2.95) a month for Hollywood movies and shows or 299 rupees for a year of live sports. The service, which also is available in the U.S. and Canada, has benefited from an explosion of mobile data usage by Indian consumers as prices have fallen in the past two years.
“Hotstar is setting the agenda for the future,” Star India Chief Executive Uday Shankar said.
Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson estimated Star will make earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $826 million by 2020, a 91% jump from this fiscal year. Fox, which had $7.17 billion in adjusted operating income on $28.5 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year, has said it believes Star will earn $1 billion in Ebitda by 2020.
Mumbai-based brokerage Edelweiss Securities pegged Star’s value at $14.3 billion as of 2016.
The assets for sale include the Twentieth Century Fox film and television studio, various cable networks and Fox’s stake in the streaming service Hulu. But among the most compelling assets—especially for Comcast—are the international ones, Star India and Fox’s interest in European pay-TV operator Sky PLC.
21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal-parent News Corp share common ownership.
Buying Star would come with some risks. Sports rights deals, if they follow the course of the U.S. and Europe, could become much more expensive upon renewal. And there could be new competition from the telecom companies driving India’s wireless data boom, including Jio, as they start offering their users content.