Feature

Disney's grim fairy tale

The Burbank-based company’s acquisition of Star India, along with other 21st Century Fox assets, is facing teething problems. They can’t seem to agree on money and manners

The ‘manic pixie dreamgirl’ trope was named in 2005. In movies, it is essentially a free-spirited, eccentric woman who rescues a responsible man from his boring life. Of course, it plays out as a love story that ends in a happy marriage, in which she supplies the spontaneous hugs and he ensures the bills are paid on time. On the big screen, opposites attract and make a cheerful home. Sadly, that’s not how the story is playing out between conservative Disney and relatively adventurous Star India. 

The first got the second in a $71-billion buyout of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Entertainment, in a bid to inflate its library and increase its presence in the content business. The Indian operations add up to just $1.76-billion, but Star India, an established entertainment business in the country, is still an important piece in Disney’s global game. Despite its significant brand value, the house of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had no presence in one of the biggest growth markets even after trying for fifteen years. But Disney has since been trying to wrap its head around Star India’s style of functioning and programming decisions. What came as an unpleasant surprise for Star India was the disproportionate attention it would be getting. At least thrice a month, the top brass at The Walt Disney Company based out of Burbank, California get on a conference call with their Indian counterparts in Mumbai.  

It is making folks at Star India anxious. They were accustomed to generous leeway until the buyout was completed last March. Disney asks questions, plenty of them, while the Murdoch family ran Star India through delegation and no more than a quick glance to check if all was well. The economic slowdown is not helping either, and senior management at the media house have been leaving in significant numbers. Uday Shankar, its chairman, was known to enjoy the trust of the Murdoch family and was the face of the company for years. Today he has limited interaction with the media. Outlook Business was not given access to him for this story, perhaps an indication of the transformation that is underway.

No fairyland

Disney may have won hearts with goofy mice and eager-to-please princesses but, in business, the company is

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