The last time he had go, the Murdoch empire suffered a slight hiccup – to put it mildly – but can Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox successfully acquire that part of Sky that it doesn’t already own this time?
You may recall, back in 2010, and then onto 2011, Sky was on the verge of being sold in its entirety to Rupert Murdoch. The regulator wasn’t getting in the way, the EU wasn’t going to stop it, shareholders were happy, what could have possibly gone wrong? Well, a phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s UK newspaper empire went wrong. It claimed the scalp of The News of the World, and some people, especially some politicians, shock horror, actually questioned whether Rupert Murdoch was a man who should have too much power over the media. But, it was the hacking scandal ‘wot did it’ for Murdoch, the deal was left in ruins.
Now he is back, this time 21st Century Fox is offering to buy that part of Sky which it doesn’t already own – which is 61% of the business. Sky chairman, a man called James Murdoch, who aside from being his son, is not related to Rupert, is said to be in favour of the deal. Certain politicians, the likes of Ed Milliband and Vince Cable, are against it, as they were last time around.
Indeed, if reports are to be believed, Sky shareholders rather rolled over, like a puppy wanting its tummy rubbed. At least some reports suggest that critics of the deal were alarmed at how rapidly talks between the two companies came to a conclusion.
21st Century Fox is offering to buy Sky at £10.75 a share in cash, giving the company a valuation of £18.5 billion. Now that share price represents a 42% premium on the Sky share price, so no wonder shareholders in the UK company are happy.
It is just that as recently as February of this year, the Sky share price was higher, in fact it hit £11.26 in December last year, and as recently as mid-April shares were trading over £10.
It rather seems that two things happened to help the Murdoch cause. First off, we had Brexit, the fall in the Sky share price coincided with the build-up to the EU referendum, and then fell sharply soon afterwards. At the same time, the fall in sterling meant that when valued in dollars, the Sky share price effectively fell even further.
The second development that supported the Murdoch case was the US election and its result, which has led to surging share prices in the US and appreciating dollar. 21st Century Fox has seen its share price jump from $23, or so, in mid-September to $28.64 before the bid details were revealed.
And since the vote in both the UK and US was very close, and since the Murdoch media is very influential and may well have tipped the balance in favour of Brexit and Trump, one might be able to conclude that it was the Sun (and Fox TV) ‘wot done it.’
Looking forward, there is an aspect of Sky that makes it very attractive. It has 22 million paying customers, contrast that with the majority of the Murdoch empire, with its reliance on advertising.
This all begs the question, however, whether in the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime the Sky model can still work. In many ways, it is a classic example of a company just waiting to be disrupted.
But the Murdoch’s are a savvy lot, and it’s not like they are unaware of the threat. The battle is just beginning.