Bob Iger Looking to Extend Disney Tenure, but What is the Future of Fox Leadership?

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch addresses a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 24, 2008. Uploaded from Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 2.0.

No deal has been reached yet, but it is looking increasingly likely that Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox will strike a deal for Disney to purchase the substantial bulk of the entertainment assets of Fox; including the FX and NatGeo cable channels, the Twentieth-Century Fox film studio, and valuable international assets such as Sky and Star. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that if the deal is successful, Disney CEO Bob Iger is likely to stay on with the company past his planned retirement date of 2019.

Iger has been one of the most respected CEOs on Wall Street since he took over Disney from Michael Eisner in 2005. He has already twice pushed his retirement date.

The assets in negotiation are now expected to fetch about $40 billion, down from a rumoured figure of $60 billion when talks started. The Walt Disney Company’s current market capitalization is $159 billion, so if a deal was struck at $40 billion and half it was in stock, then Twenty-First Century Fox shareholders would own a combined 11% of Disney. Were it all to be in stock, that figure would climb to 20%. The economic ownership of Twenty-First Century Fox by the Murdoch Family Trust is 16.6%, so the family could walk away with between 1.8% and 3.3% of Disney depending upon how much of the acquisition is made in stock and how much in cash.

Speculation has swirled recently that the Murdoch’s “long game” in the Disney deal is for James Murdoch to succeed Iger as Disney CEO, while Lachlan Murdoch helmed Fox. If so, even if the family achieved a 3% stake in Disney, it would not be enough to ensure that succession without persuading the Board of Directors of Disney.

Perhaps more curiously, what would the new Twenty-First Century Fox that Lachlan Murdoch will continue running look like? The assets that would remain with the company would include the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, the broadcasting arm of Fox, and Fox’s sports assets.

After the fallout from the revelations that News Corporation’s British newspapers had hacked victim’s cell phones to obtain stories and leads, Rupert Murdoch split his empire in 2014 between Twenty-First Century Fox, the film studio and cable assets, with News Corporation, owner of the newspapers and Australian assets. The slimmed down Fox would once again seem extremely complimentary to News Corporation, including common ownership of The Wall Street Journal and the Fox Business Channel and a news behemoth in cable television with a worldwide network of newspapers.

No one knows what the Murdoch’s plans are, but recombining would too much sense to simply ignore.

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