Mice are sometimes on the fox’s menu, but not when they’re named Mickey. 

When they’re named Mickey the prey turns predator, with the 21st Century variety of Fox on today’s menu. 

Yes, the worst kept secret on Wall Street has finally been confirmed, with Disney’s mouse gobbling up the lion’s share of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox for just over $52bn (£39bn) in shares. 

I covered the implications for Sky (Fox’s stake is part of the deal) yesterday, but frankly this is a transaction that I could write about for the next week and still find issues to cover. 

One thing that struck me from the early reports, however, was the New York Times stating that Rupert Murdoch had asked Disney boss Bob Iger to stick around and delay his planned retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021 as a condition of the deal. 

No surprise, some might say, given that Mr Murdoch is about to become a big Disney shareholder. Who wouldn’t want some surety over the man overseeing that investment?

But that has the feeling of spin and I seriously doubt whether Mr Murdoch had to ask. No CEO in their right mind would turn down the chance to see a deal like this through, and for reasons that go beyond boosting an already over stuffed bank account. It is a legacy defining transaction that transforms the entertainment landscape.

Disney, a traditional media company, now has the wherewithal to take on and win against the new kids on the block who’ve been making all the running of late; the Netflixes, the Amazons, the Googles. 

Mr Iger has talked about launching big into streaming. He now has everything he needs to back up his bold promises, not least an abundance of wildly popular franchises that Netflix, for one, will soon have to make do without.

Disney already dominates at the cinema box office, with Marvel, Star Wars, and its animated offerings, Frozen & co plus Pixar. It will be stronger still with Fox’s properties. 

But the transaction also deals with a chink in the Disney armour, greatly enhancing what it has on the TV side. It had been reliant on the shaky shoulders of ABC. Now? Think Homeland, the Simpsons, Empire, Family Guy. And they’re just your starters. 

With its overseas operations (the majority stake in Sky that Disney can now probably count on taking full control of and Star TV in Asia) Fox further helps with the group’s global ambitions.

This new Disney is a force that can go toe to toe with just about anyone, assuming Mr Iger’s cost cutting zeal doesn’t end up slashing and burning too much of his best talent. 

The Murdochs, by contrast, are left greatly diminished.

Oh sure, they are very much richer, but throughout his career, Rupert Murdoch has been an empire builder par excellence. 

The aftermath of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, combined with investor pressure, forced the spin off into a separate company of his slower growing print businesses. 

Now the most exciting parts of 21st Century Fox are gone, the other side of his business is left with Fox Sports, the Fox News Channel, Fox Business and some other assets that will be spun into a new “Fox”, which we are told will be a “growth company centered on live news and sports brands” a “challenger brand”, the sort of thing the Murdoch family does best. 

At least according to the press release. 

However, the businesses it is in are in some degree of turmoil. 

The habits of American sports fans are changing fast, while FNC, long the standard bearer for the hard right, is having its heels nipped at by newer, and still more extreme, operators. Meanwhile, its backing for Donald Trump isn’t looking as clever as it once did. Some formats have a natural lifespan. The new Fox will have to be fast moving, adaptable and smart. Does the family, perhaps without James Murdoch who’s talking about a role with Disney, still what it takes to build a powerful new kingdom in this sort of environment?

That remains to be seen. Right now, when it comes to the question of emperors it’s Mr Iger who’s wearing the clothes. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here