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Sony Abandons $10 Billion Merger Plan with Zee Entertainment

Unmet Conditions and Leadership Disputes Halt Sony's Ambitious Media Merger in India
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Sony has called off its plans to merge its India arm with Zee Entertainment, a deal valued at $10 billion, due to unfulfilled closing conditions. This decision ends over two years of negotiations aimed at forming a major media entity in India. Sony, in a statement, expressed disappointment over the unmet conditions of the merger, which was supposed to be finalized by Sunday.

Central to the collapse of the deal were concerns over leadership roles. Sony was uneasy about Zee’s CEO Punnet Goenka continuing as the head of the merged entity, given the ongoing investigation into allegations of fund diversion involving Goenka and Zee founder Subhash Chandra. The Indian market regulator’s ban on their involvement in board activities of Zee Group companies further complicated matters. Sony favored N.P. Singh, its India head, to lead the new entity, but Goenka resisted stepping down.

Zee has refuted Sony’s claims of breach of merger terms and is considering legal action. This termination also entails a demand from Sony for a $90 million termination fee, which Zee categorically denies.

The merger, agreed upon in December 2021, was initially seen as beneficial for Zee, especially amidst its battle with Invesco, its largest public shareholder at the time. For Sony, this deal represented a significant opportunity to strengthen its presence in India, a market with growing potential for television and digital platforms.

Analysts suggest Zee’s public shareholders might seek a new buyer, similar to Invesco’s previous efforts. The share price of Zee has seen a notable decline from the time of the merger announcement to the present.

This development highlights the complexities of high-stakes media mergers and acquisitions, particularly when leadership disputes and regulatory scrutiny are involved. Sony now faces the challenge of independently enhancing its market position in India, a key growth region for the company.

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