February 24, 2024
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Sony-Zee Merger Nears Collapse Over Leadership Dispute

In a high-stakes showdown, the fate of the long-anticipated merger between Sony Group Corp.’s India unit and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. teeters on the edge as a critical decision looms. Sources familiar with the matter suggest that the much-anticipated $10 billion union could face a decisive conclusion as early as next week, with the companies grappling with a looming deadline to untangle their standoff or potentially scrap the deal altogether.

The impasse revolves around the leadership of the merged entity. Zee is adamant that its CEO, Punit Goenka, will spearhead the conglomerate, as initially agreed upon in the 2021 pact. However, Sony remains cautious due to ongoing regulatory scrutiny against Goenka, resulting from allegations of financial impropriety and mismanagement. This clash has intensified in the eleventh hour, threatening to derail a merger plan already marred by delays and dramatic twists over the past two years.

While Zee asserts progress toward meeting prerequisites for the deal’s completion, Sony seems poised to issue a communication to Zee, indicating an inability to meet stipulated merger demands. This move, speculated to transpire next week, could mark the terminal phase for the deal, given the insufficient time to reconcile all outstanding aspects before the formal December 21 deadline.

The proposed merger aimed to establish India’s largest entertainment conglomerate, positioning itself to challenge global titans like Netflix and Amazon, alongside local giants such as Reliance Industries. Sony’s envisioned majority stake of 50.86% in the combined entity and the Goenka family’s slated 3.99% ownership hang in the balance amid the deadlock. Regulatory hurdles have mostly been surmounted, yet unresolved internal conflicts threaten to thwart the deal’s closure.

While potential remedies include seeking an extension from India’s company court or expedited resolution of contentious issues, the fate of this media marriage remains uncertain. Meanwhile, in a backdrop of sectoral consolidation, Reliance, having previously attempted a Zee acquisition, is reportedly in advanced discussions to acquire Walt Disney Co.’s India operations, further underscoring the dynamic shifts within India’s media landscape.

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