Facebook is in talks to acquire a 10-per-cent stake in Indian mobile telco Reliance Jio, according to the Financial Times.
Jio, owned by conglomerate Reliance, has been a dynamic player in the Indian mobile networks market since launch in 2016, when it sparked a price war by offering cheap 4G data and voice calls. The company has more than 370 million subscribers, although is heavily in debt. It has a video streaming service, JioTV, that carries sports content.
Analysts at Bernstein value Jio at more than $60bn (€56bn). The Financial Times reported that Google had also been in talks with Jio recently and Microsoft has plans to partner with the company on cloud computing services. The newspaper said the Indian government has recently introduced regulations making it more difficult for Silicon Valley companies to operate in the market.
Reliance last year announced plans to place Jio in a separate ‘digital services business’, in which it was expected to seek outside investment.
Jio’s sports content is on streamed channels from other broadcasters, as well as its own channels. Its most significant current sports content deal is domestic BCCI cricket streaming rights, sublicensed from pay-television broadcaster Star for the five years from 2018-19 to 2022-23.
India has been a market of particular interest for Facebook, where the company has tried some unique initiatives. It is by some estimates Facebook’s biggest market in terms of subscriber numbers. The company previously tried to launch a free internet service, Free Basics, but was blocked by regulators. Facebook is about to launch a payments service in India. Jio already has one – JioPay.
India is the site of Facebook’s biggest ever bid for sports content, a failed $600m pitch for the digital rights of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It currently holds LaLiga football rights in the Indian subcontinent, in a deal running 2018-19 to 2020-21.
Ajit Mohan, Facebook India’s vice president and managing director, told TechCrunch last year that the company was open to investing in partners in India. “Wherever we believe there is opportunity beyond the work we do today, we are open to exploring further investment deals,” he said.
Jio also runs music streaming service JioSaavn and e-commerce business JioMart.