Selling Sky an ’emotional’ moment for Rupert Murdoch
The move will see a wave of high-profile brands, TV stations and shows fall into Disney’s hands.
Rupert Murdoch said Sky is the asset he is parting with most reluctantly after Walt Disney launched a 52.4 billion US dollar (£39 billion) takeover of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.
In a major industry shake-up, Disney has swooped for a significant slice of the media mogul’s empire, including Fox’s film and television studios, cable entertainment networks and international TV businesses such as its 39% stake in Sky.
If backed by regulators and shareholders, the deal would reinforce Disney’s position as one of the world’s biggest media companies and help defend its dominance from the rise of video-streaming services and the growing threat posed by Amazon and Google.
The Walt Disney Company to Acquire Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., After Spinoff of Certain Businesses, for $52.4 Billion in Stock: https://t.co/XeOzZXaRBn— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo) December 14, 2017
Sky News asked Mr Murdoch if selling Sky was a “really emotional moment” for him.
He replied: “Yeah. We are very proud of Sky. I just thought we needed a real alternative, give people lots of choice, we thought you know, four or five channels – now what is it, 150 or something?
“And it’s a great company, employing a lot of people in this country.”
When asked which asset he was parting with most reluctantly, the businessman replied: “I think Sky.”
He said the move would see Fox “returning to our roots” of news and sports.
It will see a wave of high-profile brands, TV stations and shows fall into Disney’s hands, from X-Men, Avatar and the Simpsons to FX Networks and National Geographic.
In a call with investors, Mr Murdoch defended the deal, saying: “We know a lot of you are wondering ‘why did they come to such a momentous decision? Are we retreating?’ Absolutely not. We are pivoting at a pivotal moment.”
Disney will seize control of Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox 2000, Fox Sports Regional Networks, Fox Networks Group International, Star India and Fox’s interests in Hulu, Tata Sky and Endemol Shine Group.
Fox will create a new company, spanning the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Sports, Fox Television Stations Group, sports cable networks FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes and Big Ten Network (BTN), the firm’s studio lot in Los Angeles and equity investment in Roku.
As part of the announcement, Fox stressed it would press ahead with attempts to buy the 61% of broadcaster Sky it does not already own before the Disney deal closes in 12 to 18 months’ time.
Despite speculation the takeover would see Fox chief executive and Sky chairman James Murdoch installed as the boss of Disney, the entertainment giant stressed that Bob Iger would remain chairman and CEO until 2021.
Mr Iger told Good Morning America: “James and I will be talking over the next couple of months. He will be integral to the integration process. He and I will be discussing whether there is a role for him or not at our company.”
Asked whether Sky News had a future under Disney’s ownership, he told Bloomberg TV: “Absolutely. All of Sky has a future.
“We obviously will look at the overlap between the business that are similar … ultimately we believe we’re going to create a lot of opportunities for a lot of Fox employees, opportunities beyond the ones they have today.”
As part of the deal, Disney will take on 13.7 billion US dollars (£10.2 billion) of debt, with shareholders in 21st Century Fox receiving 0.2745 Disney shares for each Fox share.
The takeover is valued at a larger 66.1 billion US dollars (£49.3 billion) when taking debt into account and is expected to lead to cost savings of 2 billion US dollars (£1.49 billion).
Disney was left as the frontrunner to secure the Fox assets after rival suitor Comcast pulled out of the race on Monday.
Mr Iger added: “We’re honoured and grateful that Rupert Murdoch has entrusted us with the future of businesses he spent a lifetime building, and we’re excited about this extraordinary opportunity to significantly increase our portfolio of well-loved franchises and branded content to greatly enhance our growing direct-to-consumer offerings.”
The announcement comes as Mr Murdoch struggles to finalise the Sky takeover after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley referred the acquisition to Britain’s competition watchdog for an in-depth investigation.
Ms Bradley shifted the takeover to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for a full inquiry earlier this year after a three-month probe by Ofcom.
Fox said it remains “confident” the Sky deal will be approved by the regulators and will close by June 30 next year.
Despite the assurances, Sky shares took a turn for the worse following the announcement, closing down 1.8% on the London Stock Exchange.
On the Disney-Fox deal, Mr Murdoch added: “We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry.”