x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Murdoch: The son also rises

Media Summit special: James Murdoch, who will jointly open the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, has strong ties to the Middle East, a region set to play a vital role in the further growth of his father's empire. Through BSkyB, Murdoch Jr may soon control half of News Corp's revenue.

James Murdoch's appearance at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit comes at a decisive time for News Corp, the media empire controlled by his father.

Rupert Murdoch turned 80 last Friday, but neither he nor News Corp show any sign of slowing down. The company has myriad growing interests in press, TV and film across the globe.

While no retirement date is in sight for Murdoch Sr, his son James, 38, is being widely touted as the heir apparent of this media juggernaut.

James Murdoch joined News Corp in 1996 and is credited with leading the corporation's internet operations early on.

Four years later he was appointed the head of the Asian satellite service Star, which at the time was not performing well. This was followed by his appointment as chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) in 2003.

In 2007, the young Murdoch stepped down as the chief executive at BSkyB, although he remains chairman of the company, and took up his current position as the chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia.

Having outshone his siblings Lachlan and Elisabeth within the corporation, James Murdoch now has a central role in what stands to be its biggest deal ever: the £7.8 billion (Dh46.26bn) buyout of BSkyB, in which News Corp already holds a 39.1 per cent stake.

The proposed buyout caused uproar among rival media companies in the UK, citing competition concerns within the industry.

As a concession, News Corp agreed to divest Sky News, which is owned by BSkyB. But News Corp will continue to hold a 39.1 per cent stake in Sky News if the plan goes ahead.

The Sky deal comes at a bad time for News Corp, which has been embroiled in a continuing investigation into alleged phone tapping of celebrities by journalists at the News of the World, a British tabloid it owns.

The investigation into the issue has added fuel to the media company's rivals, many of whom oppose the Sky deal.

The proposed takeover of BSkyB is likely to be on the agenda at this week's Abu Dhabi Media Summit, where James Murdoch will be part of the "opening conversation" with the film director James Cameron.

Mr Cameron has contributed significantly to the News Corp coffers. His movie Avatar, which grossed US$2.8bn (Dh10.28bn) at the box office, was produced in collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox, which is part of News Corp.

The BSkyB deal also has repercussions in the Middle East. Sky is preparing to launch a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel, set for next year.

The channel will be run as part of a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (Admic), a private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and BSkyB.

Whatever the fate of News Corp's buyout of BSkyB, the launch of the Sky News Arabic-language station adds to News Corp's growing interests in the Middle East.

James Murdoch has close ties with the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Last year, News Corp paid $70 million for a 9.09 per cent stake in Prince Alwaleed's Rotana Media Group, which owns the world's largest catalogue of Arab music and film. In turn, Prince Alwaleed has a 7 per cent stake in News Corp.

In television, News Corp's Fox International Channels broadcasts 12 channels in the Mena region, including Fox, Fox Movies and Star World.

Rohit D'Silva, the general manager of Fox International Channels Middle East, said recently the company planned to launch more channels this year, showing the increasing role the Middle East is playing in the expanding News Corp empire.

BTIG Research says the corporation is expected to have worldwide revenues of about $44bn by 2015, based on the assumption that the BSkyB deal goes ahead.

And if it does go ahead, James Murdoch will reportedly be responsible for controlling half of the group's annual revenue.

Regardless of when Murdoch Sr chooses to retire, his son has clearly taken a commanding role in the family business.

 

bflanagan@thenational.ae