Rupert Murdoch’s American media empire was forged in dealmaking.
The mogul transformed a regional newspaper business into a juggernaut through acquisitions, perhaps most notably the 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 1985 and Dow Jones (owner of The Wall Street Journal) in 2007. But he also knew when to sell. Murdoch split his companies in two in 2013, separating the film and TV business from his newspaper empire (as well as his Australian telecom holdings), betting that the newspapers were holding down the value of Fox’s TV business. And in a blockbuster $71 billion deal in 2019, Murdoch sold off nearly all of his Hollywood assets to Disney.
Rupert Murdoch no longer is a presence on the Fox and News Corp. boards, having shifted to a fuzzier “chairman emeritus” role effective Nov. 17, leaving his son Lachlan to run the show for now, which begs the question: Is Rupert’s eldest the dealmaker that his father was? Or will he maintain the status quo and let things work themselves out once his father dies and the children who control the family trust make their collective call?
There are signs that Lachlan shares some of his father’s traits. The letter that sparked talks of a Fox-News Corp re-merger last year came from both Lachlan and Rupert, and at Fox, the $440 million acquisition of streaming platform Tubi (a growth engine for the company with 74 million monthly active users) is said to have been a Lachlan priority.
With Lachlan now in charge of both companies, would he attempt another deal? One Wall Street veteran who didn’t want to be named tells The Music news that he wasn’t expecting a recombination of Fox and News Corp or sale of either company in the near term, pointing to Rupert’s continued involvement. With Lachlan’s possible interest in maintaining his father’s and both companies’ core strategies of recent years, he argued that “smaller, incremental deals,” including minor acquisitions or asset sales, were more likely for the time being.
Bank of America analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich also doesn’t expect any major change in strategic direction in the foreseeable future, saying: “Longer term, there are many options as Fox has such a strong balance sheet — so it can get bigger,” but it also has “bite-size assets easily to be sold.”
What about merging Fox and News Corp again? “I don’t think it makes sense to combine the companies,” the BofA analyst says.
But Siye Desta, analyst at CFRA Research, has a different take. He sees a merger between News Corp and Fox “more likely down the road, potentially to reinforce Lachlan’s new role at the helm,” he suggested in a note to investors. “The recent settlement between Fox and Dominion Voting Systems also removes a previous obstacle to such a merger,” referring to the $787 million election fraud claim payout to avoid going to trial.
And if Lachlan finds himself willing to deal, he may find that the market is strong for some of his family’s assets. Because there’s another reason there is so much interest in the future of Murdoch’s companies, one of particular note with the 2024 Republican primary campaigns just getting underway: Murdoch controls Fox News Channel, still the most powerful media platform in GOP politics. And he controls the outlet that has become the home for intellectual conservative policy: The Wall Street Journal and its editorial pages. If Murdoch’s media properties were to hit the market — in pieces or all at once — it would be, as one connected politics observer notes, the “most politically consequential M&A deal in history.”
Two sources with connections to Republican politics say they believe that Fox’s assets could attract more attention than even Disney’s linear networks, which are also exploring the market.
While Disney’s assets (which include the broadcast network ABC and its stations as well as cable channels like FX and Nat Geo) have attracted interest from the likes of local TV giant Nexstar, the bargain-hunting media mogul Byron Allen and private equity, Fox’s assets could attract a similar pool of buyers, plus an array of wealthy Republicans looking to influence the party and country.
One source cited wealthy Republicans like the Ricketts family, the DeVos family and Koch Industries as parties that could be interested should the Murdoch media assets become available. “Fox’s peak value is right now,” says Chris Ruddy, the connected Republican media executive and CEO of Fox News competitor Newsmax. “I could see a scenario where Lachlan Murdoch keeps the Fox broadcast network and the sports and divests of the news channel.”
And should Lachlan become serious about selling Fox News, there’s already one interested party willing to go on the record about their intent. Ruddy adds, “I would be interested in acquiring Fox News or merging it into Newsmax, and I think I could put together a group that would be interested in doing that.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Music news magazine. Click here to subscribe.