Rupert Murdoch, one of the most influential media billionaires of all time, is stepping down from the boards of Fox and News Corp after a nearly 7-decade-long stint. He plans to leave his eldest son, Lachlan Murdoch, as the sole chair of News Corp. alongside his current positions as executive chair and CEO at Fox.
The elder Murdoch, the inspiration for Logan Roy in the smash hit HBO drama Succession, will vacate his positions in mid-November after the companies hold their annual stockholder meetings.
The 92-year-old told employees in a memo Thursday that he would continue to involve himself with the companies as chair emeritus. Chair emeritus is a mostly honorary title given to past chairmen of companies. Murdoch may continue to assist Fox and News Corp in an advisory capacity but has at least officially handed down the leadership position to his son.
Why Rupert Murdoch Was Such an Influential Magnate
Rupert Murdoch’s retirement will likely mark a major shift in the media landscape because of his tremendous influence throughout the industry. He has been easily one of the most influential people in US media over the past 7 decades along with other media moguls like John Malone, Sumner Redstone, and Ted Turner.
Murdoch turned a small Australian newspaper that he inherited into the world’s largest media company in terms of total assets before it split into Fox and News Corp. in 2013. After seeing initial success with his newspaper he was able to start acquiring major media brands such as the New York Post and the Times of London.
Murdoch’s empire really took off after it launched the Fox Network on cable television in 1986 after acquiring a large suite of broadcasting stations. 3 years later in 1989, it tested out a pilot of a wacky new animated show that would become one of the most iconic and successful TV shows of all time; The Simpsons.
Fox continued to snowball into an unmatched monolith after it aired its first National Football League (NFL) game in August of 1994. Its bid of $1.58 billion for 4 years of broadcast rights for the National Football Conference (NFC) won after having to assure the NFL that Bart Simpson would not be commentating the games. The NFL quickly became a massive money-maker and it still earns Fox hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Murdoch first launched Fox’s own news network in the late 90s, dubbed Fox News, with the help of Roger Ailes and it took off almost immediately. It became the top-rated news channel in the US in 2002 after passing up CNN. Fox News is well-known for its unabashed conservative leanings and has drawn major criticism for its biases throughout the years.
The media giant’s string of successes continued through the 2000s with some of the most popular TV shows of all time including 24, American Idol, and House M.D. It was estimated that Fox reached 102,565,710 houses in the US in 2003, which was about 96.2% of all households in the country.
News Corp. eventually split into Fox and News Corp. in 2013 to protect the entertainment brands from liability after a devastating scandal where British journalists at one of News Corp.’s papers were caught hacking into phones illegally. The split was also intended to separate Fox’s extremely profitable TV and film brands from its flailing publishing business.
Fox continued to see success through the 2010s though cable-cutting was beginning to turn into a massive problem. It was able to sell its entertainment brands (excluding Fox Sports) to Disney for $71 billion as analysts predicted difficult times ahead.
What’s Next for Fox and News Corp?
Murdoch is stepping down during an extraordinarily difficult time for his empire as it struggles to remain afloat. Fox is now worth a fraction of the largest media companies in the world like Netflix and Disney as cable-cutting continues to accelerate.
Murdoch’s empire ran into perhaps its greatest obstacle yet this year when it was sued for defamation by the election company Dominion Voting Systems. Not only was it forced to settle the case for a whopping $787.5 million but it also had its dirty laundry aired in front of the public when a large number of embarrassing internal communications were disclosed during the case.
Despite the financial and reputational hit along with the general struggles the media empire faces, Murdoch wrote in his retirement memo that “Our companies are in robust health, as am I,” He added “Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years.”
Whether or not he is correct about the future outlook of the companies, 52-year-old Lachlan Murdoch will have to steer them through choppy waters following the Dominion Voting Systems backlash and worsening cable-cutting.
Lachlan may still need to convince his father of major decisions going forward, however, as the elder is still the largest shareholder of both companies. Though Fox and News Corp. are publicly traded, Rupert Murdoch still controls a plurality of shares at about 40%. He currently controls the family trust that holds these shares which will be passed down to his children when he passes.