Time Warner might have won Round One of what may turn out to be a long-running boxing match, but Rupert Murdoch is quite likely to have a Plan B, and C, and D, in his corner ready for the next round.
21st Century Fox, in making a bid of $86 a share (in cash and shares) has certainly opened up a hornet’s nest as far as US media giants are concerned. While Murdoch is on the record as saying he was not prepared to pursue a deal ‘at all costs’ it is worth remembering that there’s lots of blood already on the canvas floor between the two players.
Few can forget the battle of words from Ted Turner, when he was deputy chairman of TW, and before when Turner was running CNN and Turner Broadcasting. This started as long ago as 1983 when a Murdoch-sponsored yacht (he was not aboard) collided with Ted Turner’s boat on the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Turner’s boat sank 10 km from the finish.
And the words continued. In 2003 Ted Turner challenged Murdoch to a fist fight and accused Murdoch of being a warmonger. Those of us who attended CNN’s annual ‘World Report’ gatherings in Atlanta in the mid-to-late 1990s would be treated to at least a few barbed comments about Murdoch, and while we might have laughed at his words, they were not always meant as jokes. Ted (not for nothing described by some as ‘the Mouth from the South’) later said he had made amends with Rupert.
But it all adds up to a lot of history between Murdoch and TW. Murdoch’s rumour mill yesterday talked of the bid rising to $100 a share, and certainly the $17.7 per cent rise in TW’s share price on July 16 is not chicken feed.
And remember that many of 21st Century’s large institutional investors are also investors in TW (and names such as State Street are specifically jointly involved). Time Warner says it is business as usual, but the rest of us are waiting for the bell to ring for Round Two. But there’s one little factoid that both Murdoch and Turner would know about: SHOULD the deal go ahead then CNN would almost certainly have to be spun off and would be outside the package to avoid regulatory obstacles.