News Corp: How big is big?

Almost on the eve of the UK government giving News Corp permission to start a bargaining process to acquire the 61 per cent of BSkyB that it doesn’t already own, James Murdoch says that News Corp isn’t by any measure big enough to really compete on the world stage. Speaking at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity Debate, News’ deputy chief operating officer delivered some very strong hints that the next 10 years – probably under his stewardship – News Corp needed to get much bigger, or risk falling into the hands of a bigger fish.

Unsaid, but certainly implied, was that the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft or just about any nationally operating telco could mop up News Corp in the blink of an eye. “There are much, much bigger beasts than a News Corp or a Time Warner,” said Murdoch, adding that competing with these new threats, as well as the established telcos, would define the shape and structure of News Corp over the next 10 years or so.

Murdoch was being interviewed by Sir Martin Sorrell, advertising giant WPP’s CEO, and himself no slouch when it comes to building a global presence out of aggressive acquisitions. Sir Martin asked whether the convergence of the assorted ‘Sky’ brands over Europe might be the first stage of getting bigger. “The national nature of those businesses doesn’t work well with competing on a global basis with monolithic brands like Google,” Murdoch told delegates. “We co-operate with them as well but there is competitive dynamic.”

He is spot on. Earlier this year at the huge Satellite 2011 conference in Washington DC, similar sentiments were echoed by the ‘big four’ satellite operators, Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat. Romain Bausch, president of SES (market capitalisation €6.3 billion), told delegates that big as the satellite business is, they were but minnows when compared to the world’s media companies, and of little consequence when compared to the telcos, or the likes of Google.

Murdoch’s comments (News Corp, mkt cap of $13.8 billion) and comparing the likes of Time Warner (mkt cap $36.9 billion) in the same breath, while looking anxiously over his shoulder at the buying power of an AT&T (mkt cap $180 billion) or Google ($120 billion) or especially Apple ($301 billion), and you have to agree that Murdoch is right to worry about News Corp’s future.

However, it does seem to prove that while market domination must be avoided, perhaps the UK government has been chasing the wrong dog to kick all these months, and should instead be more worried as to what the likes of Microsoft or Google might be up to.

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