Rupert Murdoch may be ready to join the small ranks of nonagenarians running global empires when he celebrates his 90th birthday on Thursday, but according to associates who have met with the media mogul recently, he shows no signs of slowing down.
“Honestly, he’s the fittest I’ve seen him in years,” said a person who met with Murdoch, just before closing last, at Holmwood House, the Georgian estate near Henley-on-Thames. acquired for £ 11.25 million two years ago with his former model wife Jerry Halland where you have spent most of your time during the pandemic. “I was hoping he was, well, more tired. Instead, he takes a lot of meetings, when Covid restrictions allow, he wants to participate, talk about things, stay on top of business. “
As CEO of News Corp, home of the Wall Street Journal, Sun, Times and Australian, and co-chair of Fox Corporation, broadcaster of Fox News and the NFL’s crown jewel games, Murdoch is firmly in control. of formidable power. media empire.
Having overcome the phone hacking scandal that threatened to destroy his UK news operation, now Fox, led by his eldest son Lachlan, will shape the future of the Murdoch empire and play a key role in determining the fight. dynastic.
Fox is a right-leaning Fox News-led business giant that enjoyed Supercharged ratings and notoriety during the Trump era, an essential tool for pay TV operators that has been working well for decades.
“I don’t think it is possible to have a cable subscription of any substance [in the US] no Fox News or the Fox broadcast as long as you have the NFL, ”says Richard Greenfield, partner and media and technology analyst at LightShed Partners.
Fox News faces problems. There is a multi-million dollar lawsuit over allegations that he promoted the spread of theories that the US elections were rigged and the attraction of audiences to more right-wing services such as Newsmax and Donald Trump’s new favorite One America News Network (OANN). But they’re unlikely to particularly concern the battle-hardened Murdoch.
However, the long-term implications of the network’s editorial stance, and that of several of its news publishing assets, pose a growing problem for Murdoch when power is finally transferred to his four oldest children.
When asked if Fox News had played a role in the Capitol riots in January, Murdoch’s 48-year-old youngest son James, once seen as the heir apparent, effectively rebuked the family business, saying that media groups Americans “spread lies” unleashing “insidious and uncontrollable forces,” although he did not name Fox.
Last summer, James resigned from the News Corp board of directors, citing “disagreements” over editorial content, severing his last formal link to the empire created by his father.
Despite Fox’s commercial success, Murdoch faces a familiar problem: lack of scale. Fox is valued at $ 22 billion, while rivals like Disney and AT&T, who beat Murdoch after his failed $ 80 billion bid in 2014 to take over TimeWarner and increase 21st Century Fox’s volume enough to keep going. being globally competitive, they are valued at $ 350 billion and $ 200 billion, respectively. .
The traditional American television market is shrinking rapidly as streaming redefines what consumers are willing to pay for content. A record 6 million American households canceled pay-TV subscriptions last year.
In the meantime, reports that Amazon is ready to purchase exclusive NFL games because its Prime Video service is a timely reminder of the competition that new big money digital rivals are putting up to win the rights to major shows – and the threat they pose to traditional broadcasters like Fox’s sports networks.
“The key question as we look forward to 2022 and 2023 and beyond is whether it can really be eaten or eaten,” says Greenfield. “Fox and many of his companions have no scale. It’s hard to believe that Fox will remain an independent company five years from now. Fox is likely right now trying to figure out how it evolves over time. “
In 2017, Murdoch recognized his limitations in the global entertainment battle and made the rare move of selling by selling 21st Century Fox, home to assets ranging from The Simpsons to the X-Men and Avatar franchises, to Disney for $ 71 billion. . Each of his six children racked up $ 2 billion from the deal. Subsequently, Comcast won the £ 30 billion bidding war for Sky.
“We are leaving? Absolutely not, ”Murdoch said at the time. “We are turning at a crucial moment.”
As a clause in the Disney deal that prevented Murdoch from making further asset sales comes to an end this month, Murdoch now has an opportunity to assess whether to spin again.
Multiple analysts believe there is no business logic in Fox’s often-discussed recombination with News Corp, which is led by Murdoch’s right-hand man, Robert Thomson, who shares a birthday with his boss and will celebrate his 60th on Thursday.
The view is that, in the short term, well-financed companies are more likely to be buyers.
Lachlan, 49, has already acquired the ad-supported streaming service Tubi for $ 440 million and is very likely to increase his stake in betting firm Flutter, the parent company of Paddy Power, Skybet and Betfair. But in the longer term there will be a broader reorganization of the existing portfolio.
“Murdoch has shown an extraordinary ability to let go,” says Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis. “While I don’t see Fox News as salable, like the Wall Street Journal and the Sun, I don’t see anything happening to them while he’s alive. He’s a true insider, but no one says his kids love the compulsory political elements of news businesses like their father. “
The heir apparent Lachlan, who surprised his father by abruptly leaving the family business in 2005 to move to Australia and pursue his own interests before being drawn back a decade laterYou will have your own agenda, if you stay with the family business.
“There have always been questions about what Lachlan ultimately wants to do,” said a source. “When Rupert is in the room, Lachlan certainly plays the supporting role of Rupert. But when Rupert leaves Lachlan he definitely assumes that [leadership] paper.”
When the Rupert era finally ends, the power behind the family trust, which controls 40% of the voting shares in News Corp and Fox Corporation, will be split evenly among his four oldest sons. His two youngest daughters, Grace and Chloe, are financial beneficiaries.
“Lachlan doesn’t have universal support across the family,” says a source. “James and Elisabeth get along very well. Prudence and Elisabeth get along very well. There is a route to make potential changes if that is what they want. “
But given that Rupert’s mother, Dame Elisabeth, lived to be 103, that might still be a bit far off, giving the Australian-born mogul time to extend seven decades of deals, reshape the family empire to mitigate the divide. and ensure that the next generation stays with Murdoch. intact legacy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism