Malone co. gains 2nd largest voice

NEW YORK — Liberty Media revealed Wednesday that it has amassed a hefty 9.15% voting stake in News Corp. — the second largest voting bloc after chairman Rupert Murdoch’s — giving Liberty’s maverick chairman John Malone a much bigger seat at the media giant’s table.

Liberty has been News Corp.’s largest equity holder for some time, but its shares were non-voting. Now, Liberty said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has acquired 48 million voting shares in a series of transactions through Tuesday of this week. The new voting stock, — acquired through open-market purchases and one large private trade — cost Liberty 21.2 million non-voting shares and $693 million in cash. Liberty’s total equity position in News Corp. is now 17%.

“We have capitalized on an opportunity to exchange non-voting shares for voting shares at attractive prices to become the second largest voting block in one of the world’s premier media companies,” said Liberty CEO Robert Bennett in a statement. “News Corp. is one of the few truly global media companies, and we are very pleased we were able to leverage our substantial equity interest in News Corp. into a larger equity and voting stake,” he added.

A News Corp. spokesman said the company was told of Liberty’s new position on Wednesday before Liberty publicly announced it. “Liberty is a longtime and very welcome shareholder. We see this acquisition of voting shares as a further sign of Liberty’s and Dr. Malone’s confidence in our company’s position and strategy,” he said.

But it’s not clear if Murdoch truly welcomes Liberty’s advance as a stockholder or if News Corp. was surprised by Wednesday’s announcement. It seems unlikely that a mogul as fiercely independent as Murdoch would relish a new sidekick at this stage.

Murdoch and Malone were allies in News Corp.’s first failed bid to buy DirecTV. When News Corp. acquired the satcaster in a second go round last year, it did the deal alone.

Liberty’s future and strategy are fodder for endless speculation on Wall Street and in the media industry. Its strategy of being an investment showcase for promising firms had started to sour. It seemed that Liberty was looking for a major strategic acquisition, hence its bid several months ago for Universal Studios. U went to General Electric/NBC.

Most recently, Liberty cemented its control of cable company UnitedGlobalCom.

(Dow Jones contributed to this report.)

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