Location: New York Industry: Media Annual Sales: $33 billion
The media business looks depressing, unless you’re Rupert Murdoch. Even as News Corp.’s assets suffer amid a global recession, Murdoch continues to place big bets, from buying up TV stations in Eastern Europe to turning The Wall Street Journal into an even bigger brand. His critics can be merciless, but his rivals always pay attention. “This is a company that can see around corners,” says Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen. “And everyone watches what they do.”
With his fearless and sometimes reckless empire-building, Murdoch has changed the game. Objectivity was the stated goal in U.S. news journalism until the boldly partisan Fox News Channel stole share from CNN. Social networking looked like a fad until News Corp. ponied up more than $580 million to buy MySpace.com. China was impenetrable—until Murdoch penetrated it. And rivals look on with envy as News Corp. has become the dominant force in TV in countries from India to Britain.
Long before “multiplatform” became the mantra of every media baron worth his private jet, Murdoch showed how it was done. News Corp. is both a producer of content—movies, books, TV shows, and newspapers—as well as a distributor of it. He has demonstrated that mighty brands such as Britain’s BBC can falter if you dare to give people what they want, as BSkyB’s satellite service has proved. He is willing to lose staggering amounts of money to build newspapers, such as The New York Post and, now, the Journal, into bigger properties. Opponents call it pride. Murdoch says he’s looking for the next big thing. Strike that; he wants to create the next big thing.
Whether Murdoch will fall flat on his face is always a question. Certainly his tendency to bet the farm on new ventures has taken News Corp. to the brink before. But, at 77, he continues to be the pioneer who makes everyone else hold their breath. “We’re almost paranoid to any sense of creeping incumbency,” says James Murdoch, Rupert’s son and chief executive of News Corp.’s European and Asian operations. “We may fail sometimes. But when we see an opportunity, we try to run with it as fast as we can.” That could be the expanded Journal or BSkyB’s new online subscription service, which other TV companies shied away from for fear of cannibalizing their core businesses. One thing is certain: News Corp. lives to make waves.