Tabloids, Cable and Hollywood: Murdoch's Media Megadeals
(Bloomberg) -- Rupert Murdoch’s $52.4 billion sale of a big chunk of 21st Century Fox Inc. to Walt Disney Co. is a turning point in the media mogul’s career, spanning more than 60 years and most of the planet’s continents.
From turning the Sun into a salacious, pugnacious best-selling tabloid in the U.K. to pioneering 24-hour news with Sky and Fox News, Murdoch has catalyzed change in the industry as much as responded to it. Andrew Neil, formerly the editor of Murdoch’s Sunday Times and chairman of Sky Television, has called him “probably the most inventive, the bravest deal-maker the world has ever known.”
Following the death of his father in 1952, Rupert Murdoch took control of News Ltd., an Australia-based company which controlled the No. 2 daily newspaper in Adelaide. One of his first acquisitions was the Perth-based Sunday Times in 1955, followed by the purchase of the Sydney-based Mirror a few years later.
Murdoch, who studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University, returned to the U.K. in 1968. He beat out rival Robert Maxwell to buy the News of the World, one of the most influential English-language papers globally at the time. In a sign of things to come, the newspaper was infamous for taking down public figures with sex scandals, to the point of being known as the “News of the Screws.” A year later, Murdoch bought the Sun, which 50 years later is the bestselling newspaper in Britain.
Within the next few years, Murdoch expanded to the U.S. by buying the San Antonio Express and the New York Post. He founded News Corp. in 1979 as a holding company for his various assets.
Murdoch solidified his place in London’s business and political circles by taking over the Times of London and Sunday Times newspapers in the 1980s. The Times has long been seen as the house journal of the British establishment, recently employing key Brexit-supporting cabinet member Michael Gove, who bagged the first U.K. newspaper interview with President Donald Trump. In February, the Financial Times reported that Murdoch was in fact secretly present in the interview.
Murdoch become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985 to be able to own television assets in the country, the same year acquiring 20th Century Fox Film Corp. as well as several other independent TV stations across the U.S. The following year he used this infrastructure to found Fox Television.
In 1996, 20th Century Fox bought Four Star Television and founded the 24-hour Fox News TV channel, with Roger Ailes as its CEO, becoming the fourth nationwide network in the U.S. and quickly becoming a dominant news show in ratings. The New York Times headline for the launch was “At the new Fox News Channel, the Buzzword is Fairness, Separating News From Bias.” This followed his 1989 launch of Sky Television in the U.K.
2005 saw Murdoch’s most famous dud deal, with News Corp. splurging half a billion dollars to take control of early social-media giant Myspace months after its killer, Facebook Inc., had been dreamed up by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard University dorm. News Corp. sold it six years later for a fraction of what it had paid for it.
Murdoch’s next mega acquisition was that of the Dow Jones financial-news business, including the Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion in 2007.
The last decade has seen the Murdoch empire endure public turbulence and weather structural change with the influence of the Internet. Fox was roiled last year in the U.S. by the scandals surrounding Ailes and founding anchor Bill O’Reilly, while Murdoch’s U.K. properties continued to be rocked by expensive court cases over alleged phone-hacking by newspaper reporters.
In 2013, bowing to shareholder demands, the News Corp. monolith split into two corporations representing its entertainment and publishing elements, called 21st Century Fox and News Corp. respectively.
A year later, Murdoch attempted a $75 billion takeover of rival Time Warner Inc., only to withdraw its unsolicited offer after the target rejected it and the effort sent Fox shares tumbling.
The deal with Disney includes the sale of Fox’s movie and TV production house, a 39 percent stake in Sky Plc, Star India, and a lineup of pay-TV channels that include FX and National Geographic.
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