David Hill, the veteran Fox exec and longtime member of Rupert Murdoch’s inner circle, is stepping down from his executive post at 21st Century Fox to launch a production banner focusing on live TV, reality shows and digital investments.
Hill’s company is dubbed Hilly and will be backed by Fox. Hill’s departure from his role as senior exec VP of 21st Century Fox and chairman of National Geographic Channels has been in the works for some time and is unrelated to the transition set for July 1, when James and Lachlan Murdoch take the reins of the media colossus from their father and president-COO Chase Carey.
“David is a dynamic and imaginative leader who has changed the experience of nearly all major sports on three continents,” said Rupert Murdoch. “Whether it was launching Sky Television, the Fox Network, Fox Sports or the Regional Sports Networks, we owe him an enormous debt for his nearly 30 years of contributions.”
Hill has been a force at Fox since late 1993, when Rupert Murdoch brought him over from Britain to the U.S. to build the Fox Sports broadcast operation from scratch. And he had to do it inside of eight months, after Murdoch stunned the biz by snatching an NFL rights package away from CBS starting with the 1994 season.
As president of Fox Sports, Hill’s on-air innovations included use of a constant score and time graphics, the glowing hockey puck and NFL first down line superimposed on the gridiron.
“For nearly thirty years, David has defined excellence in sports television in the same way Roone Arledge did in the 1970’s and 1980’s,” said Carey, Fox’s president-COO. “David is a true leader, visionary and once-in-a-lifetime force of nature.”
Hill was president of Fox Sports until 1997 when he was named chairman of the Fox network through 1999. In 1999, he was named chairman of Fox Sports Media Group, where he spearheaded the growth of Fox’s regional sports networks biz and the 2013 launch of the national Fox Sports channel. When News Corp. owned a majority interest in satcaster DirecTV, Hill also served as its head of entertainment.
Most recently, Hill was tapped last year to serve as chairman of National Geographic Channels, a joint venture of Fox and National Geographic Society, following an exec overhaul at the group. He is expected to formally step down from his board post after the Nat Geo org has its next board meeting in late July.
In 2013 Hill was also tasked with guiding Fox’s “American Idol” and the final season of “The X-Factor” after the departure of the network’s longtime alternative programming head, Mike Darnell. Hill will continue to be involved in producing final season of “Idol” next year.
“I believe the future of the broadcast networks lies in big, spectacular live events. As I’ve spent most of my life producing those, I think I can give some added value,” Hill said of his new venture. Hilly will also offer production consulting services to outside firms.
An Aussie native, Hill joined News Corp. in the U.K. from Australia’s Nine Network in 1988. He helped launch News Corp.’s Sky Television, the U.K.’s first satellite TV station which later merged with British Sky Broadcasting, and the Eurosport joint venture with the European Broadcast Union.
Hill’s departure from his exec role at Fox marks another end-of-an-era moment for company amid the generational leadership transition with the next-generation of Murdochs. Hill, known for his gregarious personality and infectious enthusiasm, reflected on his long tenure and the growth of Fox in all its global permutations during the past 20-plus years.
“It has been an intensely satisfying creative period. Working for Rupert Murdoch, Chase Carey and (former News Corp. COO) Peter Chernin is as good as it gets,” Hill said. “Building Fox Sports from the ground up was something which will always live with me – but more particularly all the incredible men and women in front of, and behind the cameras who made Rupert and Chase’s dream become a reality, and turned an idea into what has become a world leader in sports production excellence.”
Hill praised the expansion of the division since 2010 under the “very steady hand” of Fox Sports president-COO Eric Shanks.
Despite his close association with sports, Hill cited his time atop Fox Broadcasting Co. as his career highlight to date.
“Of all the fun parts, the proudest was running the Fox network in the late ’90s,” Hill said. “When I was given responsibility, it lagged in a pitiful fourth place. Working with (former entertainment president) Peter Roth, Mike Darnell, and a group of fearless television warriors, we took it to No. 1 by a 10th of a percent behind NBC by 1999.”