He’s back. James Murdoch — the only Murdoch to show any sign of independent thinking — is about to return to the near-mainstream media. According to the Financial Times and other reports, Murdoch’s new investment group Lupa Systems has agreed to inject funds (“a small interest” is how FT described it) into Vice Media — the somewhat tattered “new media” start-up from Canada which soared to a valuation of US$5.7 billion only to skid back to earth in a series of dud deals, revenue shortfalls and cost blowouts that saw more than US$2 billion wiped from its value.
The reports say it would be the largest of a series of small investments Lupa has made since Murdoch left the family’s main company, Fox, earlier this year.
Murdoch will be using his US$2 billion in proceeds from the US$71 billion sale of most of the Murdochs’ 21st Century Fox empire to Disney. His buy-in price will be much lower than it would have been had he done the deal at the start of the year. Disney is a major investor in Vice and earlier this year wrote down the value of its investment by US$353 million. That helped establish the US$2 billion slump in Vice’s value. It was the second write-down by Disney — earlier it had sliced US$157 million from the value of its investment.
There are already strong links between Murdoch and Vice. The old 21st Century Fox was an early investor six years ago and Murdoch is an independent director (since 2013 when Fox took a 5% stake for US$70 million). But there is another, more intriguing relationship. Back in June, HBO (part of Time Warner, now owned by AT&T) dropped news program Vice News Tonight and ended its seven-year relationship with Vice. The executive in charge of news left Vice, and replacing him was someone Murdoch knows well — Jesse Angelo, the former publisher of The New York Post, News Corp’s long-owned paper. He was named Vice’s president of global news and entertainment. Angelo left the Post last January, soon after Murdoch walked away from Fox.
Driving these and other changes at Vice is Nancy Dubuc, the former A&E CEO who was brought in last year when Vice got into trouble financially (and reputationally as the company was rocked by repeated sexual harassment claims). Revenue slumped, losses rose sharply and hundreds of staff were cut in the US and around the world.