Murdochs Avoid Disney Sale Discussion at Annual Meeting

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Rupert Murdoch

A shareholder proposal to do away with dual-class shares was defeated and the meeting was over in 30 minutes.

Rupert Murdoch and sons, presiding over the 21st Century Fox annual meeting of shareholders on Wednesday, never mentioned reports that they were considering a sale of many of the conglomerate's assets, but made it clear that Fox is well positioned to go it alone as the company is currently constructed.

"Across entertainment, sports and news, we produce high-quality output that sets us apart from our peers," said co-executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, who spoke for just five minutes at Wednesday's meeting.

"Universal connectivity and access to nearly every piece of content ever made represents remarkable opportunity," he said. "And it's still very early in this evolution."

Murdoch continued: "Content is king all over again. Video is at the heart of all digital consumption, and 21st Century Fox is uniquely positioned to benefit from a wave of innovation that makes this a great time to deliver distinctive stories, sports and news, and to own the very best in video brands."

As in the past, Fox faced a shareholder proposal to drop the company's dual-class share structure that helps the Murdochs maintain control over the conglomerate. The proposal, though, was defeated.

The proposal was only advisory and did not force change, but had it passed at Wednesday's meeting, it would have signaled a measure of dissatisfaction with moves James and Lachlan Murdoch have been making since being named CEO and co-executive chairman, respectively.

A shareholder at Wednesday's meeting advocating for the proposal seemed to blame the hacking scandal that led to the demise of the British tabloid News of the World and sexual harassment scandals at the Fox News Channel on the dual-class of shares. She also said Fox is having trouble with its deal to acquire the 61 percent of the Sky satellite TV service in Europe it doesn't already own due to the Murdochs' tight control over the company.

Lachlan Murdoch, though, expressed confidence the company's hard-fought takeover of Sky "will close by the middle of next year." Ironically, his comments came the same day that some former Fox News insiders — including Kelly Wright, an anchor suing the outlet for racial discrimination — visited British lawmakers to advise against the merger.

Also at Wednesday's annual meeting, shareholders re-elected all of the company's board members.

Lachlan Murdoch called Fox "the most global" media company on the planet and said that acquiring Sky will help Fox maintain that leadership position.

The executive also touted many of Fox's upcoming films, the FX cable channel and Fox News, which he said recently completed its 63rd consecutive quarter of being the top cable news channel in terms of total viewers.

Unlike competitors such as Time Warner and Disney, the Murdochs did not show clips, trailers or any other promotional video of the company's products. The shareholder meeting, in fact, lasted just 30 minutes at the Zanuck Theater on the Fox studio lot in Los Angeles.

Lachlan Murdoch said the film studio has "a strong upcoming holiday slate" with The Greatest Showman, The Post and Ferdinand

He also boasted of three Marvel films coming next year, including Deadpool 2, then joked: "I wouldn't show your children the trailers." He also touted the next two Avatar sequels, set for release in 2020 and 2021.

Marvel and Avatar are a couple of reasons that Disney has offered to purchase Fox's film studio and several other assets, according to insiders, as Disney would like as many of Marvel's movies as possible under its own umbrella and is building an Avatar-themed land at one of its theme parks.

None of the Murdochs, though, addressed last month's negotiations with Disney, nor did any of the shareholders at the meeting ask about them.