The you-couldn’t-make-it-up return of Rupert Murdoch’s anointed son to the top job at Sky after such a public climbdown is likely to mean only one thing – that the family is revving up to have another go at buying the 61% of the satellite broadcaster it doesn’t already own.
James M is of course already chairman of the family movie company (21st Century Fox, you may have heard of it). So despite the surprise at the announcement – including a hefty dose of understandable outrage from the corporate governance police that a director so roundly criticised by Ofcom in the wake of the phone hacking scandal should be allowed back into the same hot seat – the move has probably been on the cards for quite some time.
It’s part of the grand plan to get control of Sky and consolidate their large and small screen presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Sky of course is rather more substantial now than it was the last time he was in charge of the remote, having completed a £7bn merger programme with Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland.
As further evidence of acquisitive intent, here’s a rather mangled quote that Murdoch Jr gave to the Hollywood Reporter back in October ‘We have been clear that, over time, having 40% of an unconsolidated asset is not an end state that is natural for us.’
And one thing that watchers of Murdoch’s both Snr and Jr have learned over the years is that achieving end states that are natural is something of a speciality du maison. Like an 82 yr old Terminator, once Rupert has set his sights on something – The Wall Street Journal, Jerry Hall, Sky TV - he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he has got what he wants.
It looks like James is a chip off the old block too. If the very rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald said, are different from you and me, then the Murdochs’ are more different still.
As for the protests over his appointment, well shareholders of Murdoch companies have had to put up with some pretty, ahem, unconventional capital structures and board arrangements in the past, and so all the indications are that they will be prepared to continue to do so this time. And at least James M will no longer have anything to do with the UK newspaper business, News UK, which was his particular undoing last time.
As for exactly how and when any bid for Sky will emerge, that remains to be seen. But we can be pretty confident that the cameras are already rolling back at Murdoch HQ. This is one 4K-ready drama serial that will run and run.