This Friday night, boy wonder (aka James Murdoch) will make probably the most important speech in his short, but very successful career rising through the family company.
It’s the MacTaggart Lecture, one of the major public occasions for the media in Britain each year, and is on in Edinburgh during the festival.
James Murdoch appears 20 years after dear old Dad made what many people now say was one of the major speeches of its kind back in 1989.
James Murdoch is News Corp’s head of Europe and Asia and he has just finished driving the cost cutting and restructuring at Star , which he ran for a couple of years while on the way up.
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His big area of interest in Europe and the UK is BSkyB, which is on his CV as a success when he oversaw it directly. Of course, there is the small thing of $A1 billion in losses on the ill-advised move to buy 17.9% of rival ITV to prevent it merging with Virgin Media.
But in doing that James was merely replicating Dad’s buccaneering approach to blocking rivals and preventing them from doing deals that could threaten News Corp’s leading position.
BSkyB is resisting regulatory attempts to sell the ITV stake, and other attempts to get BSkyB to sell its premium services to competitors at less than wholesale prices. It is classic Murdoch policy to push the envelope on competition questions and market activity and when confronted with regulatory opposition, to push back as hard and as long as possible with all the legal and publicity resources that the News Corp empire can muster.
James has well learned that from his time in the UK at Sky, so he is well qualified to make the speech this Friday in Scotland.
The story in The Independent says:
James Murdoch is as close as it gets to being a digital native in the upper echelons of the Murdoch empire. He is a natural technologist, who approaches traditional media with very little baggage. If anybody can deliver a clear commercial vision of how his father’s vision of a “global cornucopia” can be turned into a series of leading global businesses, it is probably him.
As he said when he agreed to do the lecture: “Our industry is so clearly at a turning point.”
1989 was also a key moment of disruptive change, and Murdoch senior got an awful lot right about the future. If James Murdoch manages to pull off a similar trick, then we may well still be reading his MacTaggart in 2029.
What we will have to work out is how much of what he says will be James Murdoch’s view of the current and future and how much of it represents his father’s voice and views.
I bet we get an awful lot about inherent wrongness of free internet usage and its evil impacts on “quality journalism”, etc; there will be very little on the mistaken and overly expensive purchase of The Wall Street Journal and its owners, the Dow Jones Company. (Which is an old-fashioned, high-cost, ad revenue-dependent analogue business with some internet bits attached).
Similarly, I suppose we will hear more about how the likes of Google are bad, and little Aussie battler (oops, American battler) News Corp is the “good guy” in this debate, forgetting that News has climbed into bed with Google to sell ads for the under-performing MySpace, which hasn’t delivered the traffic to Google.
Nor will we hear about all the stumbles News and the Murdochs have made along the way in the technological world; from the plunge into medical services online in the late 1990s to trying to turn the TV Guide into some crazed hybrid that wouldn’t work; and then buying and ruining social media pioneer MySpace in the space of four years.