We all know that Rupert Murdoch is a business legend but you’ve really got to wonder about his kids given that BSkyB last night reported a $250 million loss for the December half after writing down its stake in ITV by $765 million.
The ITV plunge was an audacious spoiling tactic unveiled by former BSkyB CEO James Murdoch when Richard Branson emerged as a major threat to News Corp’s pay-TV monopoly in Britain.
Not surprisingly, the British regulators have forced BSkyB to sell down and the whole fiasco is shaping up to be one of the 10 biggest disasters in the history of News Corp.
Rather than getting a rap over the knuckles, James Murdoch has just been promoted to run News Corp’s entire European and Asian operation. Just like his father, he can now direct the retribution against Gordon Brown’s government through the pages of The Sun and The Times.
The ITV play was a classic case of Murdoch over-reaching, which is what we might also be seeing with Lachlan Murdoch’s audacious Consolidated Media Holdings privatisation play.
Bruce Dover’s new book, Rupert’s Adventures in China: How Murdoch Lost a Fortune and Found a Wife, goes on sale in Britain today. It provides an extraordinary insider’s account on News Corp’s botched Chinese play, which James Murdoch features heavily in. Indeed, James and Wendi Deng even managed to blow plenty during a $120 million spending spree on 20 Asian internet plays shortly before the dotcom bubble burst.
The picture that is starting to emerge on James Murdoch is that he’s prone to impetuous outbursts and reckless investments.
Yet when asked what James brought to the table on Tuesday’s earnings conference call, Rupert Murdoch gushed about his “pretty smart brain”, along with “a great deal of experience in Asia” and a “great job at BSkyB”.
Surely the record suggests otherwise.
The same goes for Lachlan Murdoch. The Australian operation News Ltd was travelling just fine before Lachlan Murdoch first joined the executive ranks in 1994. Within a decade almost $1 billion had been lost on the Super League and One.Tel adventures and Lachlan’s fingerprints were all over those disasters.
You have to ask yourself just how much better off News Corp would be today if Rupert wasn’t such an obsessively dynastic guy who continually promoted his children above and beyond all reasonable expectations.
That said, we hope all the family get together in Melbourne tomorrow for a wonderful 99th birthday celebration for Rupert’s mother, the grand old Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.
Listen to an ABC discussion of Rupert’s Chinese adventures here.