To wrap up 2023, Mediaweek is looking at the biggest trends, events, platforms, and brands of the year.
Welcome to Mediaweek’s A to Z of 2023 … and beyond.
By Tim Burrowes, publisher of media industry newsletter Unmade
It was the year of Succession, and succession.
In May, the global media community was addicted to the final episodes of HBO’s acclaimed Succession, bringing to a conclusion the family war for leadership of Logan Roy’s sprawling media empire.
If there was a more ridiculous sight during 2023 than Peter Van Onselen wearing a Waystar Royco hoodie under a blazer on the ABC’s Insiders, then I didn’t see it.
In September came the real deal. Nearly 71 years after taking the helm of the family business, Rupert Murdoch announced he was going to step down as boss of both News Corp and Fox Corp, becoming Chairman Emeritus.
Unlike the rise of spineless son-in-law Tom Wambsgans, there was no such surprise at News Corp. Lachlan Murdoch is the successor. Nine years after returning to the family business, he officially stepped up at last month’s company AGM.
Lachlan will lead both News Corp and Fox Corp.
In Australia, News Corp is the more significant of the two businesses. The company’s news operations – including The Australian, The Courier Mail, the Herald Sun, The Telegraph, Sky News Australia and news.com.au – sit inside News Corp. So do the company’s majority holdings of subscription TV player Foxtel Group and property business REA Group. Ditto its commercial content arm, including Medium Rare, Storyation, Suddenly and Visual Domain.
There’s plenty more internationally too, with the increasingly profitable Dow Jones information division, along with newspapers in the US and UK, and book publisher HarperCollins.
So what will be on Lachlan’s plate in 2024 and beyond?
1. Trying again with a merger? Before handing over the reins, Rupert attempted to bring the two arms of the empire back together. The shareholders didn’t want it, but that doesn’t mean Lachlan won’t try again.
2. Deciding what to do with Foxtel. The transition from satellite broadcaster to streamer saw a decline in profits, but Foxtel Group has found itself a foothold, albeit with a heavy debt load. Something will have to give.
3. Selling the real estate arm? On the deal making front, the company is also under pressure to let go of its stake in REA which the market believes is undervalued. That would be tough as Lachlan gets most of the credit for this lucrative investment originally.
4. Dealing with the shrinking profitability of news. In the last quarter, the news media division reported a profit of just US$14m. That’s a fraction of the US$122m contribution the real estate operation makes. As the Meta money dries up, can the News Media Bargaining Code shakedown be repeated on the AI players?
5. What happens when Rupert is really gone. Rupert Murdoch’s move to Chairman Emeritus is the end of a chapter but not the story. The real succession battle will only be decided after he passes. Rupert Murdoch still ultimately controls the business with four votes in the family trust. Offspring Lachlan, James, Elisabeth and Prudence get one vote each. Lachlan, whose conservative politics are closer to his father than his siblings, is unlikely to get their support when the time comes.
Lachlan’s real succession battle is yet to come.
Top Image: Lachlan Murdoch