On The Money

Murdoch: ‘Nothing to Add’

Fox chief declines comment on Disney speculation, but adding shareholder value the focus 12/05/2017 1:00 PM

No one was expecting 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch to make any major announcements at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference in New York Tuesday, even in light of the recent reports it is in deep discussions with The Walt Disney Co., and the media chief didn’t disappoint. 

Murdoch kicked off his lunchtime keynote discussion at the conference by noting the company’s policy not to comment on market speculation.

“There’s nothing to add to that other than the nothing we’ve said so far,” Murdoch said at the conference. But he added that the main focus for Fox is growing shareholder value, and noted that the company has transformed the shape of the business to do that in the past.

“The way we think about the business has been about value, long term value,” Murdoch said, adding that Fox has changed the shape of the business several times over the past several years. “Changing the shape of the business is always going to look to what is going to create the most value to our shareholders.

A Disney deal would definitely transform Fox’s shape. According to reports, Fox would retain some sports and news assets – FS1, Fox News and Fox Business – as well as its broadcast network. Disney would receive Fox’s movie and television production studio, its 39% interest in U.K. satellite company Sky, its regional sports networks, its 30% interest in OTT service Hulu and cable channels FX and National Geographic in a deal that would value those assets at about $60 billion.

Murdoch talked about its plans to purchase the remaining interest in Sky – a process that has been continually bogged down by regulators – and expects to close the deal by the end of the year. He also talked about the strength of its regional sports networks – “the RSNs are in an incredible place,” he said pointing to the recent Major League baseball playoffs – and Hulu, jointly owned with Disney and Comcast – also is humming along nicely.

“We think Hulu can be and has been a real catalyst for competition in the market place,” Murdoch said. “…There’s a big focus on growing Hulu and making it as great as it can be.”

Whether Murdoch was merely talking up assets he intends to sell or genuinely believes they have strong enough growth potential and wants to keep them will likely be played out in the next few weeks. CNBC has said a deal could be announced as early as next week. Bloomberg reported that while Comcast is still talking to Fox about a deal, the company would prefer to do a transaction with Disney because it represents a better strategic fit and has potentially fewer regulatory hurdles to clear.