Elisabeth Murdoch’s future within 21st Century Fox has come into question on the heels of the news that former BSkyB chief Sophie Turner Laing will lead the production powerhouse that Fox is assembling as a joint venture with Apollo Global Management.
Fox and Apollo are working to finalize a deal that would combine Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group with Apollo’s Endemol and Core Media Group. Fox and Apollo on Sunday confirmed the news of Laing’s appointment as CEO of the combined entity once the deal, which is now in the midst of a U.K. and Euro regulatory review, is completed.
Turner Laing’s hiring means that Shine Group CEO Alex Mahon and Endemol’s Just Spee will be gone after a transition period. Murdoch at present is chairman of Shine Group, the cluster of production companies that the former News Corp. (prior to the 21st Century Fox-News Corp. split) bought for $674 million in early 2011. Shine has expanded its global operations significantly since then and has run autonomously of 21st Century Fox.
The lack of specificity on Murdoch’s long-term role at the combined Shine-Endemol-Core has raised eyebrows internally at Fox, given her high profile as a media exec and the fact that she is the daughter of 21st Century Fox chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch.
A rep for Fox declined comment on Murdoch’s role in the merged entity. Sources indicated that Turner Laing’s initial focus will be on determining how to integrate Shine and Endemol operations, as the companies have overlapping assets in many markets. It seems unlikely, according to insiders, that Shine and Endemol would continue to operate as separate imprints. Core Media is a smaller entity overall.
Sources said Elisabeth Murdoch has been supportive of Fox’s push to expand Shine Group through the partnership with Apollo.
One clue to Elisabeth Murdoch’s future plans might be found in her investment in April in an animation startup venture, Locksmith Animation, run by former Aardman Features creative director Sarah Smith. Murdoch made a personal investment, apart from any Shine Group association, and is Locksmith’s primary shareholder.
Speculation inside Fox is that Murdoch may leave the company again for a time to focus on Locksmith and possibly other investments. But of course, the long-term question swirling around Liz Murdoch remains the issue of succession at 21st Century Fox and News Corp., the media titans that are tightly controlled by the Murdoch family trust.
Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, were promoted in March to high-ranking posts within the family business. The appointments marked a return to the fold for Lachlan, who is non-executive co-chairman of Fox and News Corp., and a continued ascent in responsibility for James, who is co-chief operating officer at Fox, focusing on its TV businesses.
Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch both sit on Fox’s board of directors. Elisabeth Murdoch was believed to have been poised to also join the board two years ago until the U.K. phone-hacking scandal erupted and brought renewed investor scrutiny to Rupert Murdoch’s handling of corporate governance issues. At the time, it was seen as offering too much ammunition to detractors to add another Murdoch to the board.