Rupert Murdoch’s presence in print, film and television is felt in nearly every corner of the world. According to Business Journalist Ron Grover, “Rupert Murdoch is what God meant when he created a media executive. He has all the attributes of a media executive that [one is] supposed to have.” He continued that Rupert has “the vision, the guts and he’ll take the risk and he’ll go to the edge.”
His business empire started with a small Australian newspaper, and evolved to become the biggest media company we see today. His empire includes more than 150 newspapers, various international televisions operations and the 20th Century Fox movie studio. His company, News Corporation, makes $32 billion in gross annual revenue.
He has never hidden his political agenda, and will say whether or not he supports a government policy. Nor did he disguise his ambition, which some observers believe greatly contributed to the status he now enjoys.
The newspaper is the beginning and core of Rupert’s empire, as he grew up in the newspaper business; it was where he found his first success, and he loves every bit of the industry.
BORN TO A NEWS-ORIENTED FAMILY
He was born to a prominent newspaper man, Keith Murdoch, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Murdoch. Rupert grew up on a family farm outside Melbourne, Australia, and was sent to the exclusive Geelong Boarding School in Victoria, Australia. During his stay in Geelong, Rupert felt out-of-place around children of Australia’s elite even though he himself came from a privileged family.
Rupert set himself further when he went to Oxford, where he earned the nickname “Red Rupert” because of his attraction to Communist philosophy [partially due to his young, rebellious spirit]. What drove him during those early days was the desire to live up to his father’s expectations; however, after receiving devastating news about his father’s death at 67 after losing the fight against cancer and heart problems, he returned to Australia and found his mother under pressure from his father’s colleague to sell their newspaper holdings.
Part of the business that was at risk of being sold was “Adelaide News,” a small and struggling tabloid with about 75,000 circulations. A few months after finishing his studies at Oxford, Rupert moved back to Australia to manage the business and became the hand-on successor of his late father.
In 1958, he made his first foray into television at Channel 9, a small local outlet. One of the things people don’t remember is that Rupert owned a TV network in Australia, which was one of the reasons that brought him to the United States. His TV station’s value took off, and soon Rupert bought a variety of local newspapers, including the popular Sydney tabloid “The Daily Mirror.”
But Rupert Murdoch had an even higher ambition: to own a national newspaper. In 1964, he launched “The Australian,” Australia’s first daily newspaper. Some people told him it wouldn’t work because of the nation’s vast distances; although plagued with disheartening and unsolicited advice, Rupert started the paper, which harboured a liberal stand from the beginning. He was hands-on in running the newspaper, causing him to work from the morning until 10:00 in the evening.
His hands-on approach to the business garnered early success and, at 25 years old in 1956, he married Patricia Booker, with whom he had a daughter named Prudence. The relationship lasted for 11 years and ended in a divorce. In 1967, Rupert married his second wife, Anna Maria Torv, with whom he would have children later on.
His company and family are most important to him, making both aspects of his life interconnected. Growing old, Rupert has also become more adapted to conservative views and the business community in Sydney. He was “obsessed with power,” as some people close to him observed, and he wanted to become the biggest in his industry.
In the late 1960s, Rupert ventured into one of the biggest and most competitive newspaper markets, the very definition of “old establishment:” London’s Fleet Street. He ran headlong against the notorious media tycoon, Robert Maxwell; it was sort of a battle between David and Goliath with Rupert using the sling. But Rupert established a pattern when going to battle against his bigger competitor.
ATTRACTING READERS WITH SCANDALS AND CONTROVERSIES
His strategy was that there must be someone who would die in order for him to live. With his cunning tactics, Rupert outdid Maxwell and bought the popular gossip newspaper “News of the World” and another struggling daily, “The Sun.” Rupert and his team revived the struggling paper and turned it into a powerhouse with news combinations of sports, politics, scandals and images of topless girls.
“The Sun,” which was obviously loved by the people, created an extraordinary impact and resulted in fantastic commercial success. After the success of The Sun, Murdoch set his eyes on another continent to conquer: America. Rupert may have been very comfortable doing business in Australia and the United Kingdom, but when he arrived in America, he felt at home.
In 1973, he and his family settled in New York City’s Upper East side, one of the city’s most affluent areas. He was very eager to expand, but in order to break into the U.S. market he had to settle for a small regional newspaper: the San Antonio Express. He then started a national newspaper called “The Star,” hoping for it to compete with the well-established National Enquirer; however, The Star struggled to shine.
Tabloids in America are sold in supermarkets, which means they do not target a particular audience. Although The Star struggled, Rupert sold it to the National Enquirer parent company for $400 million. Later, Murdoch’s imagination was captured by a fading liberal tabloid, the “New York Post,” and in 1976 he handed over $30 million for the paper. A few weeks later, facing employee opposition, he added the New York magazine company for $7.5 million with a purchase that included The Village Voice, which returned a handsome profit. He sold it after 8 years for $55 million.
ACQUIRING MORE NEWSPAPERS
His acquisitions of several New York newspapers brought him into the limelight. In January 1977, Murdoch was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine. He was likened to King Kong towering over New York City, seizing influential publications such as the New York Post.
The Post is the publication in which Rupert not only invested substantial money, but also spent money on staffing and top-of-the-line equipment. With his instinct, the New York Post was revived with attention-grabbing headlines and daily gossips, sports, games and horoscopes.
The Post became a New York favorite, but would later become a disaster, losing millions of dollars each year. Experts claimed that Rupert was up to something more than the newspaper.
Rupert hired people who were particularly grateful for being hired; doing this earned him his people’s loyalty. He wanted people he could count on, not people who might compete with him. Later, he revealed his agenda in a decade-long spending spree: in 1981, he bought the prestigious “Times” and “The Sunday Times of London.”
In the United States, he purchased the Boston Herald and the Chicago Sun Times and was again met with revolt, but his critics failed to deter him. His vision didn’t stop at the dailies; in 1985, Rupert bought 50% of 20th Century Fox for $250 million, and later the other 50% for $325 million, a crossover deal from owning newspapers to owning a movie studio.
One of the great things about Rupert is that he’s a calm, nice person when in crisis, and would back someone if needed. Rupert was very anxious to expand his enterprise by buying into the United States television market, but was faced with the serious problem of not being a U.S. citizen.
On September 4th, 1985, he took the oath to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. There was some criticism when Murdoch gave up his Australian citizenship for American citizenship, but his business was largely based in America and he also lived there. It was not that he embraced American citizenship only to become a media baron in the country; he deliberately chose to live in America for good. Plus, he also had an ultimate master plan for his business.
After he became an American citizen, Rupert paid John Kluge of Metromedia an estimated amount of $2 billion in a deal with created the Fox Television Network. Rupert saw a great opportunity to attract younger and more diverse viewers.
His television badly misfired with its highly-profiled debut. The late show, which starred Joan Rivers, failed miserably against the fully-established Johnny Carson. The initial failure became a big lesson for the young team of the new television network.
FOX COMPETES WITH TV GIANTS
Fox started to attract younger talent with more creative freedom. Fox competed head-on with giant TV networks and, from being anonymous, they eventually managed to rank fourth behind CBS, ABC and NBC. But one show made all the difference: “The Simpsons.”
Rupert started to air shows like “The Simpsons” against the well-established “The Cosby Show,” and although some members of Fox were skeptical, Rupert kept saying, “Trust me… its gonna work.”
While Murdoch was expanding into American television, he triggered a revolt against a very powerful press union in London. In an effort to automate his newspaper production, Rupert moved it from Fleet Street to a new area; the efficient new plant required fewer workers to operate and he planned to lay off the rest.
Baroness Brenda Dean, the leader of the British union at the time, negotiated with Murdoch in an effort to save their jobs, although they understood that Murdoch wouldn’t change his mind about moving away from Fleet Street. Unbeknownst to Brenda, Rupert had already commissioned people to run the plant and begin conducting trial runs.
Although faced with resistance from the union, Rupert also received support from Margaret Thatcher, who favoured management over union. Rupert was a supporter of Margaret Thatcher when she ran for Prime Minister, and that support paid off.
Thousands of people came out in support of the demonstration, but the protest would take a violent turn. Protesters were beaten by policemen and the demonstration went out of control. With Thatcher’s help, however, Rupert Murdoch crashed the union and his new plant started its operation.
Unshaken by these activities, his shopping spree continued and, in 1988, he shelled out $3 billion to buy Annenberg Publishing, which included publications such as 17, Racing Form and TV Guide. The shocking price tag was the highest-ever paid for a publishing company. In that same year, however, Federal regulations prohibited ownership of a newspaper and television station in a single market, which resulted in the temporary sale of the New York Post.
Rupert was able to re-purchase the newspaper years later for $25 million after securing a special waiver, although no one in the News Corporation except for the New York Post considered it a viable investment.
Rupert Murdoch’s next venture was in satellite television, which nearly bankrupted the News Corporation. In 1990, Sky merged with the British Satellite Broadcasting to form “BskyB,” in which he maintained 39% ownership of the company. It was an investment that brought him negative income because the company was losing money; fortunately, several banks decided to give him more time to pay for his loan, but one bank from Pittsburgh refused and threatened to call in a $10 billion loan.
Rupert desperately settled the bank problem and brought his company away from the brink of collapse. That event was one of Murdoch’s incredible accomplishments, wherein he managed to save the company and was advised by the bank to behave himself and change the way he managed his businesses.
Rupert had to restructure his nearly $8 billion debt, which almost brought his empire down. It was a defining moment for him. But in 1993, he faced another challenge when he paid $1 billion for the Chinese TV network “Star TV.”
He first entered the Chinese television industry through Star TV, a satellite television network he founded in Hong Kong. In September 1993, he blew it when he delivered a speech in London which angered the Chinese government, who responded by banning private ownership of satellite dishes. For Rupert, it meant losing access to millions of Chinese homes. Star TV’s entire business was threatened.
Murdoch, in response, removed BBC from Star TV and did other things to please the Chinese government, which paid off when the ban on Star TV was lifted. From then on, Rupert did what he could to please the government and greatly expanded the News Corporation’s presence in China.
Murdoch is not much of a sports fan, but in December 1993, he successfully ventured into one of America’s passions: football. With a $1.5 billion bid, Murdoch snatched the rights to NFL games from CBS and amazed the sports world.
Although Fox had no previous sports experience, Murdoch invested another $500 million in the New World Communication, owned by Leonard Perelman, which improved Fox’s coverage of sports. Covering the NFL gave the network $900 million in income per year and a weekly audience of about 20 million viewers.
In the middle of 1990, Rupert set his eyes on buying CNN, but its former owner, Ted Turner, decided to merge with Time Warner instead. Rupert responded by creating his own cable channel, Fox News, which quickly gained a following. The Fox News channel has now overtaken CNN to become the most dominant and profitable cable news channel in the United States, with revenue of $1.5 billion in 2010.
DIVORCE SETTLEMENT AND IMMEDIATE REMARRIAGE
During that time, turmoil was also brewing in Rupert Murdoch’s personal life. He and Anna, his wife of more than 30 years, divorced. The settlement for that divorce became the largest in history, amounting to over $1 billion. Then, Murdoch immediately married Wendi Deng, and his personal life appeared recharged; however, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer less than one year later.
In 2003, he went on to buy DirecTV through a 34% stake for $6.6 billion from General Motors.
In 2005, he bought the social networking site “Myspace” in a swift move against Viacom, but the purchase turned tragic when Facebook emerged as the number-one social networking site. With that, Rupert returned to what he did best and refocused his sights on The Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, were owned by “hands-off owners,” the Bancroft family from Boston. He had tried to buy the newspaper several times before, but his offer was always snubbed by the owners. Later, when he learned that there were divisions among the Bancroft family, Rupert seized the moment and offered to buy The Wall Street Journal for double its price-per-share at the time.
The staggering offer split the Bancroft family further, and children threatened to sue their parents if they agreed to sell to Murdoch. According to the newspaper’s management, if Rupert had used what he practiced for years in his own newspaper business, it would certainly have damaged the quality of The Wall Street Journal.
Before the journal was sold, the Bancroft family received assurance from Murdoch that the journal’s editorial quality would be protected and that he himself would oversee it.
ACQUIRING THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
In 2007, Dow Jones entered into an agreement with the News Corporation that resulted in Murdoch’s ownership of The Wall Street Journal. Predictably, Murdoch broke the promise he had made and brought in his own people who defeated and punctured the egos of others. To the surprise of many, especially his critics, The Wall Street Journal still surpassed USA Today as the number-one daily in America.
Although Rupert has a very successful company, the stock price of News Corporation shows the opposite of what it had achieved, mainly because of the risks that Rupert always took.
In 2011, Rupert purchased his daughter’s successful production company for $700 million. His son, James, became the News Corporation’s new Deputy Chief Operating Officer in New York. The company’s competitiveness, which contributed to its development, became deeply embedded in its culture.
For years, his small London-based tabloid “News of the World” has been under investigation for allegedly hacking into celebrities’ phones. The scandal escalated further when it was found out the tabloid tapped a murder victims’ phone to obtain information and paid police officers for stories.
James Murdoch, facing the allegations, announced that the 168-year-old “News of the World” would cease publishing. In 2012, as the scandal went deeper, his youngest son Rupert resigned from News International.
For decades, Rupert Murdoch has overseen an incredible news empire and showed an unrivalled passion for the media business. It’s an empire he manages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; it never ends.
Organizations and Laws Supported
- Republican Governors Association
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Cato Institute
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Stop Online Piracy Act
- Protect Intellectual Property Act
- Partnership for a New American Economy
- Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great
- Suzy Lamplugh Trust
- The Shooting Star Children's Hospice
- Hampton Pool Trust
- Child Victims of Crime
- Cancer Research
- Brain Tumour U.K.
- Founded “The Australian”
- Founded “News Corporation”
- Acquired newspapers such as “News of the World,” “The Sun,” “New York Post” and “The Wall Street Journal”
- Formed “BSkyB,” “Fox Broadcasting Corporation” and “Fox News”
- Acquired “20th Century Fox” and “Harper Collins”
- Installed one of London’s advanced electronic newspaper-printing facilities
- Acquired Hong Kong based television network “Star TV”
- Acquired “IGN International”
- Formerly acquired “Intermix Media” and owned “Myspace” and “DirecTV”
- Bought “The Herald” and “Weekly Times Ltd”