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Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) and Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL) on Wednesday announced that they have signed a 'definitive agreement' to merge ZEEL with SPNI and combine their linear networks, digital assets, production operations and programme libraries.

SPNI is an indirect subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). After the closing of the deal, the new company will be publicly listed in India.

The closing of the transaction is subject to certain customary closing conditions, including regulatory, shareholder, and third-party approvals.

"Under the terms of the definitive agreements, SPNI will have a cash balance of $1.5 billion at closing, including through infusion by the current shareholders of SPNI and the promoters (founders) of ZEEL, to enable the combined company to drive sharper content creation across platforms, strengthen its footprint in the rapidly evolving digital ecosystem, bid for media rights in the fast-growing sports landscape and pursue other growth opportunities," a joint statement said.

"After the closing, SPE will indirectly hold a majority 50.86 per cent of the combined entity, the promoters (founders) of ZEEL will hold 3.99 per cent, and the other ZEEL shareholders will hold 45.15 per cent stake," it added.

Punit Goenka will lead the combined company as its Managing Director and CEO.

The majority of the board of directors of the combined company will be nominated by the Sony Group and will include the current SPNI MD and CEO, N.P. Singh.

On closing of the transaction, Singh will assume a "broader executive position" at SPE as Chairman, Sony Pictures India, reporting to Ravi Ahuja, SPE's Chairman of Global Television Studios and SPE Corporate Development.

"It is a significant milestone for all of us, as two leading media and entertainment companies join hands to drive the next era of entertainment filled with immense opportunities," Punit Goenka said in the statement.

Analysts have termed the deal as a 'win-win' proposition for both sides.

"As the Zee Entertainment board approves the Zee-Sony merger, We see it as a win-win situation for both the companies, since the merged entity will have a strong portfolio of content and dominance over multiple languages along with better operational performance," said Vinod Nair, Head of Research at Geojit Financial Services.

"We expect the merged entity to pose strong competition to its rivals and further increase its market share, especially while the entity is utilising its $1.5 billion cash balance for investing in its digital ecosystem, media rights for sports and other content," he added.

According to Vivek Menon, Co-founder of NV Capital: "Finally, the much-awaited mega-merger has been inked. There has been a lot of buzz around the outcome of this merger ever since this was initially announced as there were uncertainties surrounding the deal.

"In the broadcasting space, they would be numero uno and will have tremendous pricing power, especially on the ad revenue front. The combined entity would be the largest player in terms of viewership and will also have tremendous pricing power in terms of viewership. Overall, we only see a very positive impact for the combined entity as an outcome of this merger."

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