The announcement Thursday that media mogul Rupert Murdoch would step down from his roles running Fox Corp. and News Corp. sent shockwaves through the industry and raised questions about the future of, among other things, the editorial decisions at Fox News, the most prominent piece of the Murdoch empire.
The media business that Murdoch built over seven decades has been staggeringly successful and often controversial. But the firms also face existential threats from the significantly declining cable subscribers who fund Fox Corp. and challenges surrounding digital growth for their newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, inside of the News Corp portfolio.
So what does this announcement mean? Here are three takeaways.
Expect very little to change in the short term
In 2019, Murdoch began laying out the contours of a succession plan. He named his oldest son, Lachlan, to co-chair the companies. With Rupert retiring, Lachlan will now have full control of an empire he already knows well.
Lachlan reportedly shares his father’s conservative politics, and may even be more conservative, while younger brother James is said to be much more progressive. If James had been named chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp., the corporate direction could be significantly different. One of their sisters, Elisabeth Murdoch, would reportedly prefer to sell the companies altogether, but more on that later.
For now, Rupert, 92, says he remains in good health and will still be involved in the day-to-day of the business. No real changes are expected at Fox News or any of the companies at least through the 2024 election.
We are closer to Fox News having a new owner
In the medium term, there could be big changes. While Rupert can control who he hands the company off to, he doesn’t control what happens after his death. That is when control of the companies goes to the family trust run by four of his children: Lachlan, James, Elisabeth, and Prudence.
While Lachlan might be able to convince his siblings to keep the brands, logic might suggest this is the time to sell off the properties in the same way their father sold off the movie division to Disney for billions in profits.
It’s possible, if not likely, that another conservative would want to buy Fox News and maintain a lot of the personalities. But it’s also possible that Fox loses power to conservative upstarts more aligned with the MAGA base, particularly as Americans cut their cable cords.
We may not see a media mogul like Rupert Murdoch again
Consider Fox News at the height of its power around the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. Essentially all Republican politicking took place on the channel. If candidates for Congress wanted to reach campaign donors, they had to get themselves booked on Fox. If someone in House Republican leadership wanted to become speaker, they needed a Fox strategy. Indeed, it is a feature, not a bug, that Republicans John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and John Bolton all had Fox contracts prior to running for president.
Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was the beating heart of the Republican Party, from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, to the punchy populism of the New York Post, to Fox News driving and changing the Republican political narrative.
Going forward, the media environment will likely be too fragmented for that type of domination by a single media outlet.