Thursday, 28 June 2012

a good day to bury bad News

Rupert Murdoch must be gleeful at the Barclays/banking scandal erupting, just as the News Corporation board agrees plans to split its entertainment and publishing divisions. On any other day this would have been the biggest business news.

The Murdochs have 40% of votes in News, enough to control it unless independent shareholders were unusually rebellious. But they have been getting increasingly dissatisfied with the Murdoch regime - after News bought Elisabeth Murdoch's production company Shine for £400m - two pension funds sued News for "paying for nepotism".

This split has apparently been something desired by non-Murdoch owners for ages, but has gained new impetus with the hacking scandal and the toxification of the News brand. After the de-merger, the share price of News Entertainment (or Fox, as I suppose it will be called) will rise, while that of News Publishing will drop. The losses that the Times and other upmarket newspapers are making will be much harder to justify in the context of the smaller business. Rupert himself has sentimental reasons for keeping them going - they buy him a certain respectability that he craves - but he is getting old, and his children appear to have no such attachment to the print business. So this could be the beginning of the end for the Times.

But some foreign oligarch will want to buy it, no doubt. If Lebedev is willing to shovel money into the Independent, then there's bound to be someone who'll subsidise the far more prestigious Times. Until they get bored, or until they trash the reputation enough... and then what happens?

Another thing that might come out of this is the Sun's relationship with Sky. Readers of that fine newspaper - or of Private Eye - will be familiar with its practice of plugging Sky relentlessly at any opportunity. Will this continue under the split? I guess it'll decline. And will that have an effect on Sky? I guess so, otherwise they wouldn't be doing all the cross-promotion they do. This could be interesting, very interesting!

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