Following News Corp.’s win with the regulators over BSkyB (NYSE: BSY), James Murdoch is getting the corporate equivalent of a post-Super Bowl trip to *Disney* World: a promotion to the new role of deputy COO and chairman/CEO of News Corp International plus a move to corporate headquarters in New York. James, the only child of Rupert Murdoch to stick with News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). as a day job, has been based in London as chairman and chief executive, Europe and Asia, and executive chairman, News International. This new job marks him firmly as the Murdoch most likely to succeed his father as chairman and CEO of News Corp.
But this morning’s announcement also makes it clear that he is not the person next in line. In the new role, James Murdoch will continue to report to Chase Carey, the deputy chairman, president and COO. He will “work closely” with Rupert Murdoch, not much of a change from now but more proximity. He already has an office in the mid-Manhattan HQ and will use it as his base starting this summer.
While brother Lachlan has been carving out his own post-News Corp. career in Australia and sister Elisabeth has been building production house Shine, James has been working steadily on a number of vital News Corp projects, including the buildup of BSkyB and the campaign for approval to buy the rest of it and the effort to add digital subscription revenue streams to News Intl’s coffers. The move comes as News Corp. acquires his sister’s company, freeing her up to join the board. That acquisition also has caused a fresh critical look at the role of the family in the public company, perhaps making this timing a little surprising from the outside.
But it would be hard to argue at this point that James Murdoch is being handed anything (although I’m sure some people will try). He has been emerging carefully as a spokesperson on major issues in recent years and has been the company’s face in Europe and Asia. He also has been earning his operating chops. The announcement stresses that he will “bring his significant operational expertise to bear across News Corporation’s broad asset portfolio, collaborating with senior leaders to develop and execute strategies and plans that strengthen and further evolve businesses, extend brands, and build new franchises.”
It’s not that he’s done everything right. But he has experimented enough — and accomplished enough — to get to this rung.
This Murdoch is certainly a chip off the old block. Whilst stewarding News Corp’s EMEA region, he has made high-profile defences of copyright, paid content and free-market media and attacks on the BBC. At each instance, you would have been forgiven for hearing the words in his father’s Antipodean twang, rather than the son’s mid-Atlantic tongue.
James has executed Rupert’s belief in a paid digital media economy, predominantly fuelled by subscriptions, in quick time – something the father pronounced during the great industry debate of late 2009 and which News International launched in Britain with “paywalls” around The Times and News Of The World by mid-2010, plus plans ongoing in Australia.
The projects have not been without their cynical onlookers – The Times’ system is now more or less in place with just 79,000 subscribers and not a sniff of any NYT-style holes in the wall. Many might wonder if James hasn’t taken his dad’s dictates a little too literally.
But executed, it is – James Murdoch is credited with helping to try reinventing News Corp. in the image of one of its most successful units, BSkyB, the UK pay-TV firm and telco which Murdoch once ran as CEO and which he has tried to replicate elsewhere in Europe by buying up rivals.
His elevation within the mothership, therefore, points toward the eventual anointing of a modern Rupert, a premium-media tsar for the digital age.