The Report: Liz Murdoch Flirts With News Corp.

10:46 PM PST 01/19/2011 by Mimi Turner
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for 20th Century Fox

Succession could change if Rupert’s daughter sells Shine to his empire.

Rupert Murdoch once said that his daughter Elisabeth needed to decide how many children she would have before she could get serious about her career. Now she is serious.

The mother of four and two stepchildren recently appointed JPMorgan to explore a sale of her $1 billion production asset Shine Group, and insiders are betting that she’ll bring her 10-year-old shingle to News Corp. — and thus boost her position in the evolving puzzle of her father’s succession plan.

The elder Murdoch first groomed son Lachlan, who eventually quit the company, and then James, now chairman and CEO of News Corp. Europe and Asia, to take the mantle of the company. But selling Shine to her father could give Elisabeth, 42, a powerful negotiating chip if she wants a much bigger say in the News Corp. empire.

The former Sky executive quit the family company in 2001 to strike out on her own. Since then, Liz, as she’s known, has built one of the biggest indie TV companies in the U.K., with $409 million in revenue in 2010 and a portfolio including Reveille (The Office, The Biggest Loser) and hit British TV shows including Life on Mars and MasterChef, whose format has been sold around the world. Last year Shine expanded in Germany, France and Australia and acquired the Nordic film and TV group Metrodome.

“Liz has built up a great business,” says Pete Smith, president of NBC Universal International, which has ruled itself out as a potential buyer for Shine because of the Comcast merger, as has debt-ridden European producing giant Endemol. Smith echoes the industry view in London that a deal with News Corp. would be a logical fit because the company has no international production assets of its own. “It makes complete sense,” says Smith, who also notes that Shine could be an important production partner for BSkyB, which News Corp. is trying to buy. “If you’re going to go for total ownership of Sky, then Sky needs unique content, and Shine would be a fully integrated play.”

Last spring, Liz turned down a chance to join the News Corp. board, saying it would cost Shine its indie status. At the time, she told the Guardian newspaper: “I don’t think there is necessarily a next from Shine. … I never want to not be part of it.” What better, then, than to keep it in the family? News Corp. declined comment. A Shine rep says talks “may or may not result in a deal.”             

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