James Murdoch’s ascent at News Corp. is now in high gear. News Wednesday of his promotion and plan to relocate to Gotham has fueled speculation about what other changes may be in store for the conglom as James exerts more influence over Rupert Murdoch’s media dynasty.
The younger Murdoch has advanced to deputy chief operating officer, under prexy and COO Chase Carey, and chairman-CEO of international for News Corp. He’ll move from London to News Corp.’s Gotham HQ.
While James’ international role will essentially remain the same — he’ll travel to London and continue visiting Asia, particularly India — he will take on new duties at headquarters. He will have input on News Corp.’s panoply of domestic businesses, from Dow Jones to cabler FX, with an eye to improving operations and results, particularly in the digital realm.
James’ rise, combined with News Corp.’s pursuit of the remainder of BSkyB and its pending acquisition of Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group, signifies that international operations and digital ventures are likely to gain prominence at the company in the years ahead.
But in the short term, James will have to develop a strong working relationship with Carey. Since taking the COO reins in 2009, Carey has moved forcefully to realign the company’s exec hierarchy and implement his agenda in key areas such as television, where Carey has endeared himself to Rupert Murdoch by leading the charge to squeezing cash retransmission consent fees out of cable and satellite operators for Fox stations.
James has been with News Corp. for 15 years and also serves on its board. He’s been chairman-CEO of Europe and Asia since 2007. He’ll continue to report to Carey but will also work more closely with his father, who turned 80 this month.
“James has demonstrated in an array of roles that he is a shrewd and decisive operator who can deftly navigate complex issues to transform businesses. He has equally shown a unique understanding of the emerging technologies and the digital forces that are reshaping our industry,” Carey said. “As we become increasingly global and consumer focused, we believe there are real opportunities to add new dimensions to our core businesses.”
James Murdoch is expected to arrive in New York without a supporting cast. One of his top London deputies, Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the Sun newspaper and now chief of News Intl., will continue in the same job there. James’ promotion may lead to a larger role for Jesse Angelo, a longtime friend and Harvard classmate of James who was handpicked by Rupert to be editor-in-chief of News Corp.’s new iPad-only newspaper the Daily. News Corp. has invested $30 million so far in the venture, and James has paid close attention to the business, insiders say.
Less clear is what James’ arrival in New York will mean for Roger Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News, with whom the Murdoch children have sometimes clashed. Media analyst Harold Vogel said the generational gap between the two men, if not differences in politics, could lead to disputes in which Rupert Murdoch would have to intervene.
Wall Street was hardly surprised by the younger Murdoch’s elevation. “It certainly adds clarity to the future of the company. If his last name hadn’t been Murdoch, I am sure (his ascension) wouldn’t have happened this fast,” Vogel said.
On an up day for the markets overall, News Corp. shares closed up 27¢ Wednesday to $18.56.
In a statement, the famously media-shy James made a point of singling out Carey for praise.
“Around the world, the company’s operations are increasingly fit and focused on priorities that can over time produce very significant returns,” James said. “I feel extremely fortunate to continue to support News Corp.’s international growth and also be given the chance to contribute to important initiatives across the company. Most of all, I am delighted to work even more closely with Chase Carey, whose extraordinary leadership is felt in every part of the business.”
James’ promotion comes as News Corp. is facing charges of nepotism in its business dealings in a lawsuit stemming from the company’s $675 million deal to acquire Shine. The suit was filed by News Corp. shareholders the Amalgamated Bank of New York and the Central Laborers Pension Fund.