Young Murdoch Views TV as ‘Real Killer App’ in a New Digital World


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James Murdoch, who is expected to be named chief at 21st Century Fox, has shown interest in streaming and ad technologies.

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Adrees Latif/Reuters

Soon after James Murdoch moved back to New York from London a few years ago, a friend introduced him to a young tech entrepreneur named Joe Marchese.

Mr. Murdoch, a son of Rupert Murdoch, was in line to ascend to the top of his father’s media empire and was curious to learn more about the fast-growing digital side of the business. Mr. Marchese was the co-founder of a small start-up called TrueX, an advertising technology company that replaced a slate of standard advertisements or video commercials — on the web, mobile and digital TV — with one interactive ad.

The two started to meet nearly every month to talk about the future of the industry, and Mr. Murdoch later joined the board of the start-up. Earlier this year, 21st Century Fox, a Rupert Murdoch company, closed a deal valued at about $200 million to acquire TrueX and named Mr. Marchese, 33, a president of its Fox Networks Group.

Mr. Murdoch’s dealings with TrueX, as well as comments he has made at investors’ conferences and other appearances in the last two years, shed light on his vision for the future of 21st Century Fox as he prepares to take over as chief executive. People briefed on the company’s plans say that in the coming weeks, Rupert Murdoch, 84, is expected to appoint James to succeed him as chief executive, while elevating James’s brother, Lachlan, to the role of co-executive chairman.

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How Rupert Murdoch’s Move Will Change the Leadership at Fox

Rupert Murdoch plans to name his son James chief executive of 21st Century Fox.



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Rupert Murdoch started his sprawling global media empire in 1954 with a single Australian newspaper. Now James, in partnership with Lachlan, will be responsible for steering 21st Century Fox through the digital disruption of the 21st century.

The company did not make James Murdoch available for an interview on Friday. But Mr. Murdoch has played a more prominent role with investors in the last year and also taken board positions on digital media companies including TrueX and Vice. His strategic moves and his remarks to investors suggest that digital streaming, new ad technologies and a continued international focus are likely to take priority and that he will press forward aggressively with new initiatives.

“There’s a lot of talk about the ecosystem and the industry and a lot of — as if everybody can get together and find the answer,” Mr. Murdoch, 42, said during an investor conference in December. “I think actually a better way to innovate is just to get on with doing things.”

One area of innovation where Mr. Murdoch has focused is online streaming and advertising technologies. In the face of staggering ratings declines for traditional television and an explosion of digital viewing, Mr. Murdoch has said that figuring out new advertising models for online viewing will be essential.

“I’m not underestimating the challenges in getting there,” he said at a conference last month, “but the streaming environment is a better ad platform and should be a better ad platform if we can be engaging, if we can be immersive with advertising, we can have lighter ad loads and a better product experience for viewers that they’re getting what they want.”

Asked whether he would consider creating a streaming service for some Fox networks that would not require a traditional cable subscription, Mr. Murdoch mentioned the possibility of a service that included Fox, FX, Fox Sports, Fox News and National Geographic. Such a service, he said, would be a “very simple, very compelling offering.”

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Rupert Murdoch: The Man Behind the News

From his roots in an Australian newspaper family, Rupert Murdoch has built a powerful international media empire that has considerably altered the journalistic landscape in many countries, including the United States.


“So we like seeing all of that together,” he added, “and we think the families who buy these services and individuals who buy these services also get quite a lot of value out of that.”

With the proliferation of digital screens and streaming outlets, Mr. Murdoch has said that the value of great television shows and films will soar. “The real killer app in digital is actually TV,” he said at the conference in December. “There’s a huge amount of demand for high-quality, scripted entertainment and sports. And that’s really what we focus our investments a lot on, not just here but everywhere around the world.”

Mr. Murdoch’s global perspective is likely to greatly influence his perspective as chief executive. He now lives in his childhood home of New York but has lived and worked around the world. Earlier in his career, he was the chief executive of the British telecom BSkyB and the chief executive of Star, Fox’s Asian satellite television group.

One analyst recently called Mr. Murdoch an expert on international business because he spends “so much time there. ” Mr. Murdoch replied by saying: “I don’t know what there is when you say international, right? And I say that because it’s an important point. I don’t think we look at it as kind of the U.S. and everything else.”

Some analysts have questioned whether the company will take a more active role in deal making with the Murdoch sons at the helm. The industry is bracing for a potential wave of acquisitions among entertainment companies after a series of big deals among cable and satellite companies. The question is whether James Murdoch will champion those deals. Last year, he was involved in Fox’s unsuccessful bid for Time Warner.

Mr. Murdoch said last month that the company was “not really” interested in expanding further into American cable networks, but that it was keen to boost its capabilities in creating television and film. He said that the company also was focused on faster-growing markets outside the United States, such as India and Latin America. As an example of recent deals, he pointed to the company’s purchase of an original broadcaster in India and the acquisition last year of a majority stake in the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network.

He said that the company would be “reasonably sensible and sort of tactical” in pursuing acquisitions.

“We want to continue to be a dynamic, global organization,” he said. “We think that getting stuck in the middle ground is a place you don’t want to be, and that requires investment.”



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