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Murdoch insists Disney deal is a "pivot", not a retreat

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UPDATED | Walt Disney Co has struck a deal to buy film, television and international businesses from Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox for $US52.4 billion ($A73.4 billion) in stock, giving the world’s largest entertainment company an arsenal of shows and movies to combat digital rivals Netflix and Amazon.

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The deal brings to a close more than half a century of expansion by Murdoch, 86, who turned a single Australian newspaper he inherited from his father at the age of 21 into one of the world’s most important global news and film conglomerates.

The new, slimmed down Fox will focus on TV news and sport.

Early indications are that the deal will not face strong resistance from antitrust regulators as AT&T Corp’s bid to acquire Time Warner has done.

US President Donald Trump spoke to Murdoch on Thursday and congratulated him on the deal, according to the White House.

Shares of Fox, which have surged more than 30 per cent since talk of the deal surfaced in early November, climbed more than five per cent.

Disney shares rose more than three per cent after the company said it expects to buy up to $US20 billion ($A28 billion) of its own shares to offset dilution from the all-stock deal.

Disney will also assume about $US13.7 billion ($A19.2 billion) of Fox debt in the deal.

Fox stockholders will receive 0.2745 Disney shares for each share held and will end up owning about a quarter of Disney.

Under the deal, expected to close in 12 to 18 months, Disney acquires 21st Century Fox’s film and television studios, its cable entertainment networks and international TV businesses.

That brings marquee franchises like Avatar and The Simpsons inside Disney, on top of Iger’s previous purchases, including Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Star Wars producer Lucasfilm.

The deal also includes 22 of Fox’s regional sports networks that have the rights to televise live games of US professional baseball, basketball and hockey teams as well as popular college and high school games.

Disney’s global footprint expands with the acquisition of Fox’s international satellite assets, including Star TV network in India and a stake in European pay-TV provider Sky Plc and sports rights in several countries.

The new pipeline of shows and movies will help Disney battle technology companies spending billions of dollars on online programming that is siphoning audiences away from traditional TV networks.

Immediately before the acquisition, Fox will separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its sports channels FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network, into a newly listed company that it will spin off to its shareholders.

“This will be a growth company, centred on live news and sports brands and the strength of the Fox network,” 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Murdoch told investors. He said Fox was not retreating, rather “pivoting at a pivotal moment.”

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger, 66, will extend his tenure through the end of 2021 to oversee the integration of the Fox businesses.

Disney has been struggling to bolster its TV business as cancellation of cable subscriptions is pressuring its biggest network, sports channel ESPN.

The company plans to launch its own streaming service in 2019, a calculated gamble that it can generate more profit in the long run from its own subscription service rather than renting out movies to services like Netflix.

It is not clear who will head the new Fox. Iger said current Fox CEO James Murdoch, Rupert’s younger son, will help with the transition and that the two will discuss whether he will have a longer-term role at Disney.

What Disney bought: A breakdown of assets

 

TWO groups of channels from Fox: FX Networks and National Geographic Channels.

FX is the home of critically acclaimed, edgy series from American Horror Story to Fargo – exactly the kind of content Disney lacks.

National Geographic has just begun to broach that business with scripted fare like Genius, but it’s a classic brand that fits perfectly with Disney’s portfolio.

Murdoch’s willingness to give them up is proof positive that the pay-TV business is in a state of decline, one that will provide plenty of short-term value but limited in the long term.

TV production capabilities will be absolutely key to powering Disney’s intent to go head to head with Netflix in the streaming game come 2019.

TV CHANNELS such as Star in India gives Disney more international exposure and access to the biggest growth market on the globe.

Star already has over 50 million subscribers and rights to must-have sports content in the region like cricket.

DISNEY now has access to 22 regional sports networks across the US.

THE VALUE here is mostly tied up in Sky, where Fox had been engaged in a torturous, possibly doomed effort to snap up the 61 per cent portion of the satcaster it doesn’t own.

Handing that over to Disney could help ease the regulatory path to getting a deal done; the combination of Sky and STAR will give Disney an incredible international footprint across two continents.

ENDEMOL, a production hub that could also help TV production efforts, and Hulu, where Disney will take a controlling interest.

– Reuters

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