Bid to improve shareholder value
June 26: News Corporation is considering dividing itself in two, cleaving its publishing arm from its far larger entertainment division, a person briefed on the matter said early today.
If News Corporation follows through, it would essentially mean splitting off the newspaper business that once formed the heart of the company from the Fox movie studio and television networks that now represent the strongest and most profitable parts of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Such a split, which may take the form of a corporate spinoff, would create a publishing business that includes The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The New York Post and the HarperCollins book business.
The Murdoch family would probably retain control of the newly split companies under such an outcome, this person said.
It is not clear whether Murdoch will actually proceed with the move — something he has rejected in the past — though he has softened his opposition more recently. Should the company settle on this path, it could announce its intentions to pursue a split as soon as this week, the person said. A News Corporation spokeswoman, Julie Henderson, declined to comment.
News Corporation’s chief operating officer, Chase Carey, said publicly earlier this year that the management team had considered a split. But at the time, he said, no decision had been made.
Such a move would come as investigations continue into charges of phone-hacking by News Corporation’s British newspapers, a damaging scandal that led the company to close the tabloid News of the World and undermined News Corporation’s $12 billion bid for the portion of British Sky Broadcasting that it did not already own.
Fallout from the hacking scandal has grown in the last year to touch upon an array of figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Murdoch’s son James, who led the company’s British newspaper operations. The country’s broadcast regulator has been reviewing News Corporation’s status as a “fit and proper” owner of television stations in Britain.
But the person briefed on the matter said a split was more closely tied to attempts to improve shareholder value. Restive shareholders have often said they would prefer that the company focus on its more lucrative entertainment assets, which together generated $23.5 billion in revenue in the year ended in June 2011. The publishing business, by contrast, contributed $8.8 billion in revenue.
News Corporation’s shares have risen 20 per cent in the last 12 months, but some of that ballast has been supplied by an expensive buyback programme. The company’s stock fell 1.4 per cent yesterday, to $20.08 a share.