Billionaires: Mukesh Ambani to 'stream IPL cricket free of charge'

In our fortnightly round-up of the world’s super wealthy, Bernard Arnault’s LVMH faces renewed tax scrutiny and SoftBank's Masayoshi Son increases amount of stock pledged as collateral

Mukesh Ambani's conglomerate will use its exclusive rights to the IPL to challenge Disney and Amazon in India's media market. Photo: WEF
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Mukesh Ambani

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s conglomerate will stream Indian Premier League cricket games free of charge, according to sources, using its exclusive rights to one of the world’s most-watched sporting events to challenge Walt Disney and Amazon in India’s booming media market.

Viacom18 Media, the joint venture between Paramount Global and Ambani’s conglomerate Reliance Industries, licensed the IPL streaming rights last year for $2.7 billion, fending off competitors Disney and the Sony Group.

Disney previously had those rights and used them to drive subscribers to its streaming service Disney+ Hotstar.

Viacom18 is taking a different approach, offering the games to as many people as possible to generate advertising sales, the sources said.

Top IPL salaries in 2023 — in pictures

Free media services such as Google and Facebook generate billions of dollars in advertising sales in the country, and have had far more success than paid premium products such as Netflix.

Viacom18 executives have estimated that an audience in excess of 550 million will watch the weeks-long IPL games, which will boost the conglomerate’s technology and internet ambitions, ranging from online retail to entertainment.

This year’s series of matches, each lasting a relatively short three hours in length, will start on March 31 and go on for about eight weeks.

Viacom18 will allow users to watch any number of games for any length of time on any connected device.

It is a familiar playbook for Reliance, which offered mobile service at prices far below the competition, signing up hundreds of millions of customers and putting rivals out of business.

Mr Ambani’s conglomerate owns Reliance Jio, the country’s largest telecom operator by market share with 500 million subscribers.

The five-year IPL contract gives it a reach like no other to capitalise on a tournament described as the “Super Bowl” of cricket.

The cost of cricket rights soared last year as several media companies sought them to boost their nascent streaming businesses.

Internet adoption is scaling up at rocket speed in India, and global and domestic media businesses see the country as a catalyst to boost their subscriber bases.

Disney, which previously owned the IPL streaming rights, lost that auction but bagged the TV broadcast rights after outgunning Sony. Amazon, another contender, pulled out of the bids at the last hour after completing the initial auction paperwork.

Mr Ambani, the world's 11th-richest person with a net worth of $81.2 billion, won by paying nearly three times what Disney had paid in the previous deal. Disney, in turn, paid even more — about $3 billion — for the traditional TV package.

Mr Ambani bid for the IPL rights in conjunction with Paramount, billionaire James Murdoch and Uday Shankar, the former head of Hotstar.

Bernard Arnault

Billionaire Bernard Arnault’s LVMH lost the latest round in its court battle against French tax officials who raided the luxury goods company’s Paris headquarters to gather evidence for a case.

On Wednesday, France’s top court overturned a previous ruling that had deemed the 2019 inspections to be unjustified.

The Court of Cassation ordered the Paris Court of Appeals to re-examine the challenge brought by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

The decision revives a probe into suspicions that the company, controlled by the world’s richest man, may have tried to lower its tax bill by pretending it carried out Treasury operations in Belgium rather than France.

Watch: Who is Bernard Arnault, the man who replaced Elon Musk as world’s richest person?

Who is Bernard Arnault, the man who replaced Elon Musk as world’s richest person?

Who is Bernard Arnault, the man who replaced Elon Musk as world’s richest person?

It is a boost for French authorities and hints at a low bar for justifying the need to carry out a tax raid.

The court ruled that mere presumptions of tax fraud are required to authorise a raid under French law.

Contrary to what the court of appeals had stated in its 2020 ruling, judges said there was no need for tax officials to demonstrate that the Belgian unit did not have enough staff to carry out its Treasury activities.

LVMH said the group abides strictly by rules and laws applicable in all the countries where it operates.

During a 2020 hearing in the case, a lawyer for the company described the evidence-gathering raids as “shockingly disproportionate”.

Masayoshi Son

SoftBank Group's billionaire founder Masayoshi Son has increased the amount of stock pledged as collateral to financial institutions to 175.25 million shares, or about 35 per cent of his total stake in the Japanese conglomerate.

Mr Son, 65, disclosed an increase of about 4.3 million shares as of February13, worth about 24.5 billion yen ($183 million) at current prices.

This factors in collateral and shares held under entities affiliated to Mr Son, such as Son Asset Management.

Due to mounting losses at SoftBank’s core Vision Fund investment business, Mr Son is personally on the hook for about $5.1 billion on side deals he previously set up to boost his compensation.

Earlier this month, SoftBank posted a net loss of $5.9 billion for the December quarter, with the Vision Fund segment contributing the majority of that drop on declining start-up valuations.

George Soros

Billionaire George Soros’s family office disclosed a bet against Silvergate Capital, a bank facing increasing public scrutiny over its ties to Sam Bankman-Fried’s bankrupt business empire and the broader cryptocurrency industry.

Soros Fund Management held put options on 100,000 shares of Silvergate, with a market value of $1.74 million, as of December 31, according to a regulatory filing.

The trade would turn a profit should the shares drop beneath a certain level that was not disclosed in the filing. No expiration date for the options was given.

Soros Fund Management, based in New York, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. California-based Silvergate declined to comment.

While the Soros position is small, it is the latest sign that investors are souring on Silvergate.

About 67 per cent of the bank’s shares available for trading are sold short, making it one of the most-shorted stocks among publicly traded companies of its size in the US, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The shares have fallen by about 90 per cent since the start of 2022 and are down 11 per cent so far this year.

Silvergate is facing a criminal probe as US prosecutors in the Justice Department’s fraud unit look at its dealings with Mr Bankman-Fried’s collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX and its sister hedge fund Alameda Research.

Separately, a bipartisan group of senators last month asked Silvergate to answer questions about what information it had on FTX’s alleged misuse of customers' funds and said previous answers on the subject were “evasive and incomplete”.

Mr Soros, 92, became a household name after famously betting against the British pound in 1992, helping to force the currency out of the exchange-rate system that preceded the euro.

He earned $1 billion from his huge short positions as the currency crashed in what became known as Black Wednesday, a disaster from which the government at the time could not recover.

With a net worth of $8.5 billion, Mr Soros is the world’s 247th wealthiest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Updated: February 27, 2023, 5:00 AM