Money Lachlan: the unlikely winner from the Murdoch family's latest saga

08:07  13 july  2018
08:07  13 july  2018 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall hit the beach

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Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch poses for a photograph with his sons Lachlan and James.© Reuters/Peter Nicholls Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch poses for a photograph with his sons Lachlan and James.

Rupert Murdoch has, once again, played his cards right.  But whatever happens in the ongoing battle for 21st Century Fox between two of media's true behemoths, his eldest son and anointed heir Lachlan, looks like the real winner.

It might be difficult for his many critics to stomach, but Rupert Murdoch has timed his exit from the entertainment business to absolute perfection. The wily old fox has, somehow, capitalised on a fear he himself dearly held: the fear of being trampled by internet giants like Netflix and Amazon.

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That same fear is what has motivated Disney and Comcast to battle it out to buy most of Murdoch's 21st Century Fox media conglomerate.

This week, the battle became even more complicated as a bidding war between the two giants for  Sky, the dominant pay TV operator in the UK, which is 39 per cent owned by Fox, and which Disney would also acquire as part of its $US70 billion mega-deal, itensified.

The whole saga is fascinating in its own right, and while Disney has the upper hand, who ultimately prevails remains to be seen.

Arguably overlooked, though - and of more significance to Australian readers - is how it has been shaped by the internal dynamics of the Murdoch family.

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall arrive for the Allen & Co Media and Technology Conference in Idaho on July 10.© Bloomberg Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall arrive for the Allen & Co Media and Technology Conference in Idaho on July 10. In May, it was confirmed that Lachlan - up until relatively recently a Sydney resident - would become CEO of the new 'Fox' business. That being the vehicle housing the assets the Murdochs don't sell to Disney (or Comcast).

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Which, it turns out, is a much bigger business than it is being made out to be.

Meanwhile, James, for quite a while considered the front runner for the reins of the Murdoch empire, will be going it alone.

'Fox' will be home to Fox News, the 24-hour cable news channel, which for better or worse, (mostly worse) has had a bigger impact on the world than anything else the Murdochs have done.

Fox News has dominated conservative politics in the US for the better part of the past two decades. It's also widly profitable.

James Murdoch.© Olivia Harris James Murdoch. The new Fox (which also will house the Fox Business and Fox Sports cable channels, plus the Fox free to air broadcast network in the US) is expected to spit out $US10 billion in annual revenue, and $US2.8 billion in earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation).

But almost all of those earnings, or $US2 billion of them, according to Credit Suisse, will come from Fox News.

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All of which is to say, the Fox News-powered new Fox (that's a mouthful) will be a formidable business. And Lachlan, who has played a pretty significant role in the Australian media landscape over the past decade, will be the man running it.

"He's the anointed one," said one person close to the Murdochs. "Lachlan was always the favourite," said another.

Rupert is still around, of course. Now 87, his health came into focus after a significant fall earlier this year. This week he was spotted at the annual gathering of elite media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, and won't let go of the reins until he has to. But when that happens, it's clear who will take them.

That Lachlan would emerge as the man in charge of most of the Murdoch media empire would have seemed outlandish just a few years ago.

In 2005, he famously quit News Corp, and moved to Sydney, to raise his family and establish an investment business. That business, Illyria, invested in Nova Entertainment (a winner) and Network Ten (a complete clusterf...).

The Fox News channel has dominated US conservative politics.© AP The Fox News channel has dominated US conservative politics. James, the younger Murdoch scion, had been linked with a senior executive role at Disney, but that has since been kyboshed. He is set to establish a media venture capital firm. Maybe, like his elder brother, someday he will return.

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The two brothers are said to get on, but also have markedly different world views, and are competitive. Lachlan is a red-blooded conservative, and therefore better suited to running a business underpinned by Fox News profits.

James is more of an urbane, Notting Hill sophisticate, according to people who know them. He famously criticised Donald Trump for his response to violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville last year.

Credit Suisse highlighted one possible challenge facing Fox post deal: "Whether owning Fox News will hamper access to Hollywood talent, or a sale of a company if the Murdochs went in that direction."

Another question, of key relevance to Australia, is whether the new Fox will eventually be merged with News Corp, the Murdochs other vehicle which houses its Australian media assets, including its stake in Foxtel and its newspapers.   "I think they have a long time to decide that," BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said.

Remarkably, it now seems likely that these problems, and decisions, will be Lachlan's to deal with.

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