Rupert Murdoch this week closed the book on his toughest negotiation in many years after the vast majority of independent News Corp shareholders endorsed the $16.5 billion peace deal with John Malone’s Liberty Media.

It was always going to be a foregone conclusion, but the 99.7% of shares voted in favour was still remarkably strong given the mild reservations that independent expert Grant Samuel had about the deal.

After five decades of relentless building, Rupert has just shrunk News Corp like never before by handing over $US587 million in cash, three US regional pay-TV sports networks and control of US satellite giant DirecTV in exchange for canceling Liberty Media’s $15.2 billion stake in the company.

Once this is complete, News Corp’s market capitalisation will fall to $77.6 billion, well behind BHP-Billiton and even less than Rio Tinto, despite the laughingly inaccurate market capitalisation league ladders published by our major newspapers each week courtesy of the ASX.

The ordinary News Corp voting shares are worth $24.3 billion after today’s 50c slide to $30.35 and the non-voting shares are worth $53.3 billion. Rupert’s voting stake will rise from 31% to about 38% as a result of the buyback, which further locks in family control.

Despite battling for years to win control of DirecTV, Rupert was again talking up the sale by pointing out that the business faced far more competition than News Corp’s other satellite businesses in the UK and Italy.

The Sun King’s paranoia about shareholder questions was on display again as he got up on Tuesday night and declared that any speaker would only have one minute to ask a maximum of two questions. Alas, no-one stepped forward as I was unable to find a proxy in New York and nutty grandma Evelyn Davis failed to make the trip to New York from Washington.

Therefore, it was a return to the bad old days of no debate and the meeting was all over in 11 minutes. Have a listen to the webcast here. Let’s hope we can do better at the AGM in October when Rupert will face his first board election in decades. Nominations close on 15 May.

Finally, don’t think the Malone-Murdoch jousting is over. Foxtel’s mooted move on Austar could well be a side-deal from the bigger peace settlement given that Malone is the majority shareholder of Austar.

With a market capitalisation of $2.1 billion and $500 million in debt, Austar would be no small bite for Foxtel.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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