Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

NEW YORK — A new chapter opens on Friday for Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp with the split of the media and entertainment conglomerate as the 82-year-old coincidentally goes through a marriage break-up.

The split of the company, which has about $34bn in revenue worldwide, becomes official after the close of US markets, creating two independent, publicly traded companies, both headed in some form by the Australia-born magnate.

Mr Murdoch has said the split will "unlock value" for shareholders by creating one company focused on the high-flying television and film activities, and another on newspapers and other struggling publishing entities.

He told shareholders on June 11 that the break-up would "unleash the true potential of our quite unparalleled portfolio of assets, brands and franchises".

The crown jewel has been baptised 21st Century Fox, made up of the Fox studios in Hollywood and a global array of cable and broadcasting operations, including the Fox television entities, National Geographic Channels, Fox Pan American Sports, MundoFox, STAR and 28 local television stations.

It has pay-TV services in Europe and Asia, including Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia, and stakes in BSkyB and Tata Sky.

The "new News Corp" will include newspapers in Britain, Australia and the US, including The Wall Street Journal and The Times of London. It also includes digital property services, book publishing, digital education and sports programming and pay-TV distribution in Australia.

The company announced the restructuring last June, a move partly seen as a nod to shareholders angered by the reputational damage and costs inflicted by a phone-hacking scandal in the UK, and partly because of troubles within the group’s publishing arm.

Committed to newspapers

While some analysts see the outlook for publishing as bleak, Mr Murdoch has said he remains committed to his newspaper roots.

"People are buying fewer papers but they are equally getting their news in many other forms," he said in 2012. "People will pay for news. It’s the most valuable commodity in the world. People need to know what’s going on."

As his empire was being built through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Mr Murdoch was also going through a series of unions and break-ups in his personal life.

Earlier in June he filed papers to divorce his third wife, Wendi Deng, on Thursday citing an "irretrievably" broken marriage to a woman 38 years his junior.

Ms Deng was perhaps best known for a 2011 incident when she leapt to defend her husband by striking a pie-wielding protester, prompting headlines calling her a "tiger wife".

The divorce will not affect the way in which the media empire is run as Ms Deng does not have stock or voting rights in News Corp, sources familiar with the company said.

Mr Murdoch will remain in charge of both firms after the split, as chairman and CE of 21st Century Fox, and as executive chairman of the new News Corporation.

He has spent a lifetime building his News Corp empire from a single Australian newspaper he inherited.

He moved to London where his purchase of the weekly News of the World in 1969 gave him a high-profile foothold in the British market. He went on to buy The Sun, a daily that he turned into a popular and big-selling tabloid.

The success of his London-based newspapers helped finance his 1981 purchase of The Times and Sunday Times, both prestigious broadsheets, in an acquisition met with intense opposition from parts of Britain’s establishment.

He relocated to the US where more bold acquisitions followed and where he became a naturalised US citizen in 1985.

The conglomerate made a string of high-profile acquisitions, including the Fox broadcast and Hollywood studios, and The Wall Street Journal.

His youngest son, James, 40, is believed to be the heir apparent to the family empire.

James oversaw the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, which folded on July 9 2011 after the revelation the tabloid had hacked into the phones of a murdered teenager and the families of dead soldiers.

He was named News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer in March 2011 and serves as CE of the news and entertainment giant’s international operations.

Sapa-AFP