Rupert Murdoch spent decades cobbling together a media empire.
On Thursday, the octogenarian mogul announced plans to sell his film studio and much of his entertainment assets to Disney in a $52.4 billion mega-deal. The hope is that the combined companies will give Disney the kind of sprawling library of hit movies and shows it needs to compete with digital giants such as Netflix and Apple. On a conference call with investors and analysts shortly after the pact was announced, Murdoch was adamant that the sale does not signal a surrender.
“I know a lot of you are wondering why did the Murdochs come to such a momentous decision?” he said. “Are we retreating? Absolutely not. We are pivoting at a pivotal moment.”
Murdoch added, “we are paving the way for a new Fox and a transformed Disney to chart a course across a broad frontier of opportunity.”
As part of the deal, Fox shareholders will own 25% of the newly combined company. The transaction is expected to close by June 30. Some Fox assets remain and will be reconstituted into a new company built around Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Broadcasting Co., and Fox Sports. Murdoch said the moves mark “the next leg of our journey,” while his sons, James and Lachlan Murdoch, said the streamlined company will be more nimble and better able to compete in a media landscape being upended by streaming and other online means of accessing content.
Lachlan Murdoch predicted that the new entity would be “disruptive” and hailed it as a “lean, aggressive, challenger brand.” James Murdoch added his own set of buzz words, stating, “We’ve always been interested in game changers. And we’re a business of change and of challenge and of never being complacent, and this transaction, this creation of two new ventures for our shareholders, is a game changer like no other.”
The company is getting significantly smaller, which could theoretically hurt its negotiating powers. Cable companies might try to limit what the new Fox can charge for access to its content. However, Rupert Murdoch maintained that the suite of live entertainment, news, and sports is compelling enough to give his new company leverage.
“Fox News is something that no one can afford to drop,” he said.
Despite father and sons’ efforts to talk up a bold new vision for the future, the call with investors and analysts had an elegiac quality.
“Sometimes the right decisions are the hardest ones and this is no except,” Lachlan Murdoch said.
His father took the chance to reflect on his legacy and his history of mergers, deals, and risk-taking.
“Our journey started decades ago with a single newspaper in Adelaide, Australia,” Rupert Murdoch said. “Through the efforts and energy of many, we have grown into one of the most dynamic media companies in the world.”
Soon much of that company will belong to Disney.