Deal includes stakes in Sky and Hollywood studio and is expected to lead to split in family empire building dynasty
Rupert Murdoch flanked by his sons Lachlan (left) and James in 2016 after his marriage to Jerry Hall. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Rupert Murdoch is set to announce a $60bn (£45bn) deal to sell assets in 21st Century Fox, including a 39% stake in Sky and a Hollywood studio, to rival Disney.
The deal, which will reportedly be announced before the New York stock exchange opens on Thursday, or around midday UK time, marks a turning point in an empire building career that started in the 1950s and is expected to lead to a split in the Murdoch family dynasty.
Rupert’s son James Murdoch, the Fox chief executive, will leave the company, either to join Disney in a senior role or set up his own venture, according to the Financial Times
The deal includes the 20th Century Fox film studio, home to franchises including Avatar and Ice Age, Fox’s TV production business, which produces shows including The Simpsons and Modern Family, and cable stations FX and National Geographic. Internationally, Disney would pick up Fox’s 39% stake in Sky, the Star network in India and the Fox International Channels business, which airs shows such as The Walking Dead.
“It is a fundamental parting of ways between James and his father,” says Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis. “It is an extraordinary change of dynamic.”
Fox’s bid to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own, which has been mired in a protracted regulatory process, will now be inherited by Disney. One senior analyst said the deal is set to change the balance of power and control of news media in the UK due its ramifications for Britain’s biggest pay-TV network.
“It means another company other than Fox will own Sky in due course,” says Enders. “The level of power the Murdochs would have had owning 100% of Sky, including Sky News, and the newspapers and the issues that has raised will be washed away.”
As well as breaking up his own media empire which he has built over five decades, 86-year-old Rupert Murdoch is attempting to make his family one of the major shareholders of an enlarged Disney, which would become the world’s most powerful entertainment company. According to reports, the Murdoch family trust is expected to take a 5% stake in Disney.
Rupert Murdoch has made the strategic move to secure his family’s legacy, after missing out on sealing an $80bn deal to takeover Time Warner to build the scale needed as film attendance falls and new rivals emerge including Apple, Amazon, Google and Netflix.
The deal will be scrutinised by the US and UK regulatory authorities. A Disney-Fox combination would see it control almost 40% of the $11bn US box office, the biggest movie market in the world.
Following the Disney deal, Fox will retain ownership of Fox News, its biggest profit driver, Fox Sports channel and sports rights, Fox Business and its broadcast TV network of 28 local television stations in the US.
Rupert and his elder son, Lachlan, would also continue to run News Corp, the separately listed company that owns the Sun, Times, Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal and book publisher Harper Collins. Analysts are speculating whether in the long-term the remnants of 21st Century Fox will be folded into News Corp.