You would think just making it to 86 years-old would make a man reasonably pleased. Add billions of dollars of wealth and being married to Jerry Hall and you’d think a grin would be in order. But Rupert Murdoch is all about the grimace just now.
And he has some reason. The family empire he inherited (albeit tiny at the time), is now global and massive, but seems very unlikely to make it to the next generation. OK he’ll make billions more form a Disney sale – but at 86 and with billions already, so what?
Time may not have caught up with Murdoch personally but as he – astute as ever – is first to admit it has caught up with his business. He acknowledges the FAANG phenomenon are the weather makers now and traditional media businesses need to crowd together to survive, let alone prosper. Hence the deal with Disney.
Whether that deal will include 39 per cent or 100 per cent of Sky remains open to question. The good news is the UK Competition and Markets Authority provisional judgement didn’t block Fox from its Sky takeover on a ‘fit and proper’ test – so the scandals at Fox News don’t seem to be hindering the deal. But CMA did nix it on plurality grounds, pointing out that Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) would control more news market share then anyone apart from BBC and ITV.
This must be pretty irritating: no one says Sky News is anything except an excellent service, but that doesn’t stop it also being very small in audience numbers. And the newspaper empire – which Old Man Murdoch remains touchingly in love with – is in circulation freefall along with all its peers. The MFT news reach and share is much smaller than it used to be and very, very small compared to the BBC.
And – as Murdoch would doubtless point out – even if you don’t agree with what his outlets have to say, they are all regulated media, and have to make a living by producing content consumers want to buy. Meanwhile, FAANG founders Facebook and Google are increasingly being recognised as unregulated peddlers of both fake news – the echo chamber churn of opinion as alternative fact – and unlicensed recyclers of other producers’ costly content. If you wanted to define how what at first glance looks like more consumer choice can actually be a reduction in real media plurality, look no further.
Murdoch himself has just suggested that Facebook should pay fees for news and content that is posted on its site in the same way cable operators pay carriage fees to channels. Sounds quaint, but really it is another way of saying: you (social media) can’t run riot with the business model of media – surrounding content with advertising – and expect to not pay for any of the content or be regulated as a media company. In other words, if it looks like a publisher, sounds like a publisher and has a business model like a publisher, it is a publisher. Self-identifying is for gender politics not global businesses.