Disney buys most of Murdoch's entertainment businesses in $66bn deal

Sale gives Disney significant assets from 21st Century Fox, including the studios that produce the blockbuster Marvel superhero pictures and the Avatar franchise, as well as hit TV shows such as The Simpsons

Left to right: Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman, 21st Century Fox (Photo: Business Wire)
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With a record of more than half a century of global expansion, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch changed tack on Thursday, announcing a deal to sell much of his empire to rival Walt Disney in a multi-billion dollar deal.

Mr Murdoch, 86, turned a single Australian newspaper he inherited from his father at the age of 21 into one of the world's most important global news and film conglomerates.

Under the $66 billion deal, Disney acquires significant assets from 21st Century Fox, including the studios that produce the blockbuster Marvel superhero pictures and the Avatar franchise, as well as hit TV shows such as The Simpsons.

Disney will also assume about $13.7 billion of Fox's net debt in the deal.

Fox stockholders will receive 0.2745 Disney shares for each share held and will end up owning about a quarter of Disney.

Disney’s global footprint also expands with the acquisition of Fox's international satellite assets, including Star TV network in India and a stake in European pay-TV provider Sky.

Mr  Murdoch represented the changing face of the media industry. "We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox, and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry," he said.

Read more: Disney sale trims Murdoch empire back to what he knows best

The acquisition will give Disney a new pipeline of shows and movies as it battles technology companies spending billions of dollars on programming shown online to siphon audiences away from traditional TV networks.

The deal will see Disney acquire Fox's vaunted Hollywood film and television studios, cable entertainment networks and international TV businesses, bringing popular entertainment properties including X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons, FX Networks and National Geographic into Disney's portfolio. Fox will separate the Fox Broadcasting network and other stations into a newly listed company that it will spin off to its shareholders.

Disney chief executive Bob Iger, 66, will extend his tenure to the end of 2021 to oversee the integration of the Fox businesses. He has already postponed his retirement from Disney three times, saying in March he was committed to leaving the company in July 2019.

"This gives us the ability to marry the great content of Fox with the great content of Disney, it gives us a much larger international footprint, and it enables us to use cutting-edge technology to reach consumers in far more compelling ways," Mr Iger told ABC's Good Morning America programme.

The announcement made no mention of Mr Murdoch’s son James, Fox’s chief executive. Mr Iger later said he would be working with the him on integrating the two companies, but did not know what his role would be in the long term.

The younger Murdoch will "be integral to helping us integrate these companies," Mr Iger said in a conference call with investors. After that, the Disney chief said he would "continue to discuss with him whether there's a role for him here or not".

If Disney does offer James a job then the 45-year-old could vie to succeed Mr Iger.

Mr Murdoch handed over management of 21st Century Fox to James and another son, Lachlan, 46, who shares the title of executive chairman with his father. The legendary media mogul is also the largest shareholder in News Corp, a separate company that owns publishing operations including the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Iger said new technology would be necessary to meet the demands of viewers who want to access content anytime. Direct-to-consumer service is a top company priority, he added.

Through Fox's stake in the Hulu video streaming service, Disney would assume majority control of one of Netflix's main competitors. Hulu is also partially owned by Comcast Corp and Time Warner.

The deal is the first big consolidation in Hollywood since 2011, when Comcast acquired Universal Pictures, and reduces the ranks of major studios to five. Analysts have said it could face considerable scrutiny by antitrust regulators because of the tie-up between two of the largest film and television groups.

"Disney is becoming the Walmart of Hollywood: huge and dominant," Barton Crockett, a media analyst at B Riley FBR, told Bloomberg. "That's going to have a big influence up and down the supply chain."