James Murdoch Calls Digital Media Space An "Unprecedented Competitive Environment"

Courtesy of 21st Century Fox
James Murdoch

Fox's plan to take full control of Sky is good for the U.K. creative sector and content diversity, with media plurality also not being hurt, he tells a London conference.

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch at a London conference on Thursday touted the entertainment conglomerate's commitment to media plurality and said the digital age is an "era of ultimate plurality."

His comments at the Deloitte Enders Media & Telecoms 2017 & Beyond conference come as Fox is expected to formally notify the European Union in the coming days of its 11.7 billion-pound ($14.4 billion) bid for the remaining 61 percent of European pay TV giant Sky, kicking off the regulatory review process. U.K. culture secretary Karen Bradley will have to decide whether Fox's bid for Sky should be tested for its effects on media plurality and the like, and Murdoch's comments hinted at what arguments Fox will use in defending the deal and why it should get approved.

"I would argue that there has been no other firm so committed, in deeds, to increasing plurality across the markets we operate in," Murdoch told the conference Thursday, according to a copy of his speech. 

The separation of Fox from News Corp "is only in its infancy," Murdoch also said on Thursday, touching on the topic of market power via ownership of media properties that critics of the Sky deal in the U.K. have focused on, namely the fact that the Fox CEO's father, Rupert Murdoch, has a hand in entertainment, via Fox, and newspapers, via News Corp. Analysts have said that Fox will highlight the separation of its entertainment and newspaper business in any regulatory review of the Sky deal. After all, before the split into two companies, what was then known as the combined News Corp. withdrew its previous bid for full control of Sky in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal at the firm's U.K. newspaper group, now part of the post-split News Corp.

James Murdoch on Thursday said in reference to the split a few years ago: "While we are a business animated by the values and culture of a 100-year-old creative franchise, the zeal and curiosity of a founder-entrepreneur of unparalleled vision, and our universal commitment to our customers and the great storytelling they deserve, we are also a new company, only three years old, eager to help define what this business of ideas looks like in the next 100 years."

Discussing technological and consumer behavior changes, Murdoch said: "There’s no question that this period we are in now is the most exciting and extraordinary period of transformation for our industry. Over the medium term, and approaching quickly, all video entertainment and news will be consumed over IP streaming networks. That means that what we create is released into an unprecedented competitive environment, in which the customer can choose at any minute and on any device from all the things that have ever been made. We are in an era of ultimate plurality, where choices, sources and access are multiplied, even from where we were only five years ago."

The Fox CEO also emphasized that "a commitment to creative excellence" is key to success for the company and vowed to continue investing in it. "From Legion, Fargo, Atlanta, Baskets, Archer and The Americans at FX; to 24, Prison Break and Empire at Fox; Genius, Mars and The Story of God at National Geographic; Gomorrah, Fortitude and The Young Pope at Sky; and Malleswari, Dil Hai and Neeli at Star; He Named Me Malala, Hidden Figures, Kingsmen, Jackie, Deadpool at Fox Film, creatively our investment is showing on the screen – and it’s an investment that we intend to grow."

James Murdoch highlighted that "the U.K. figures heavily in that" focus on creative excellence, saying: "Together 21st Century Fox and Sky invested around 700 million pounds ($860 million) last year in original production in the U.K. alone – we intend to continue at least that level of investment while building on Sky's already outstanding original content pipeline." 

He added: "Because the U.K. creative economy has such potential we believe it is the best place to be proposing a nearly 12 billion pound ($14.73 billion) investment – which will be a significant driver of the U.K. creative industry’s long-term success in a global market."
 
The Fox CEO continued: "The U.K.'s creative economy stands tall on the world stage. The films and television stamped 'Made in the UK' have global resonance – shorthand for storytelling that is smart, that is often a touch off-center, but always on point.

Murdoch lauded Sky for being "everything a great creative company should be," explaining: "It is imbued with a culture that nurtures ingenuity and innovation; it has reach, it has room to grow, and it has worked diligently to become one of Europe’s great, trusted brands powered by a distinctive creative outlook."

The Fox CEO said the combined company's "enhanced scale and capabilities" would be "a powerful driver of the creative industry’s vibrancy in Britain, plus in Italy, and in Germany, and in the global market, and a provider of better experiences for customers everywhere."

And Murdoch warned about Britain's outlook if the industry becomes complacent. "Past performance is no guarantee of future results," he warned. "Every day we see new entrants armed with fresh capital and a predisposition for disruption. And yet, it is this country’s balanced creative economy, with strong public service output, a vibrant commercial sector, and a diverse and independent tradition of impartial news that adds up to an environment for innovation and growth that we believe outpunches many larger markets. And Sky, of course, is an important part of this rapidly evolving sector."

Murdoch also said that "stories do matter," lauding Fox for its focus on diversity onscreen. He cited examples, such as "in the United States, where tens of millions of Americans experienced their first black president on 24, or challenged their preconceptions about same-sex couples through Modern Family."

Concluded the Fox CEO: "We work every day at 21st Century Fox to make a place where a diverse range of creators can do the best work of their lives. And we’re proud of our track record backing their bold visions."

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