The tip was so shocking that David Faber didn’t believe it at first. Rupert Murdoch selling most of his empire to Disney? It had to be a misunderstanding.
But after more dogged reporting, on Nov. 6 the veteran CNBC reporter broke the news to the world that Murdoch was in fact negotiating the sale of 20th Century Fox, FX Networks, and other assets to Disney. The $52.4 billion pact was formally announced barely six weeks later.
Welcome to Strictly Business, Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Cynthia Littleton talks with Faber, co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” about the state of media M&A, the growing threat posed by tech giants to traditional Hollywood, and his take on what happens next at CBS and Viacom.
“It was just not something I was able to wrap my head around at that point,” Faber says of his initial reaction to the Disney-Fox sale news. Over time, Faber came to realize that Murdoch “has made a hyper-rational decision that now is the time to sell,” he said.
That decision speaks volumes at a time when even the largest traditional media conglomerates, like Fox, are trying to navigate an uncertain future. Faber says the media sector has always been a vibrant arena to cover because the companies are so well known — CBS, NBC, Fox, and ABC beam into America’s living rooms every day — and the moguls behind them are so colorful, a la Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, Ted Turner, and the like.
“You have a lot of (closely) controlled companies that have these outsized personalities running them,” Faber says. “These are people who are willing to speak their mind in part because they didn’t have to worry about shareholders.”
Faber’s annual sit-down interview with cable mogul John Malone has become must-see TV for anyone covering the industry. But Faber recalls that his relationship with the executive known as the Cable Cowboy didn’t get off to such a great start.
“The first time I went up to him years ago … I asked him some complicated question that I thought was very impressive,” Faber says. “He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ “
Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring comedian/actor/producer Kevin Hart, ICM Partners agent Esther Newberg, and Marvel marketing guru Mindy Hamilton. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.