Could It Be 21st Century Fox's Turn To Fend Off A Hostile Takeover?

Rupert Murdoch certainly knows how to make a headline. No sooner had the dust settled on the phone hacking trial than there he was -- putting in a huge bid for Time Warner.

I've blogged previously about this, and it seems to be proving that content is finally king. It has been said many times, but at the same time, attention has been focused on the massive success of distributors such as YouTube, Spotify and Netflix, rather than the content creators. This seems to be reversing now with Yahoo refocussing to create content, Netflix making its name through House of Cards and Spotify having to offer stock to the major labels to carry on streaming their songs for tiny fractions of a penny per play.

So that's what makes Murdoch's $80bn swoop on Time Warner so interesting. 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merged would be a colossus with a combined market capitalisation, at present figures, of around $140bn -- a testament to the phrase "content is king" actually panning out in reality, and not just media conference presentations.

Now that it's over, however, there are two questions. One is obvious. Who's going to buy Time Warner, if anyone does?

The second one is more intriguing. Nobody appears to be asking who might buy 21st Century Fox. It has only a slightly higher market cap ($76bn to Time Warner's $63bn), and so would need a big predator to swallow it up -- but then, there are some big guys out there.

Let's return to the first question again for a moment. The Daily Telegraph ran though a list of potential suitors today. As you might imagine, Apple, Google, Disney and Amazon were all mentioned and discounted for different reasons. They would be the obvious potential suitors -- perhaps with Facebook thrown in for good measure? As an outside bet, of course. People often overestimate its strength financially when it comes to traditional, huge media companies.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent Murdoch coming back for another try in a few months. 

The funny thing is, all the above could now see 21st Century Fox as a target for takeover. If they are hugely interested in buying a company with major tv and movie assets, then it might well appear to be an attractive option. 

Take a step back and ask why Murdoch was seeking to buy Time Warner, and one possible answer shines out. Was the bid the result of Murdoch splitting his news and movie empires? Did splitting his company in two make it small enough to be a target for potential hostile takeovers? With hugely successful start-ups becoming established media giants through distributing films, there is clearly a desire for top-quality tv and movie content -- and so of the two halves, Fox would be the more obvious target.

It has been said that it was all about Time Warner's assets, and there is probably a point there. But movies and tv shows are all about finding the next big thing, not chasing a long tail of missed opportunities. 

If you want my bet, it was to make his movie empire too large to be approached for a takeover.

The irony is, by firing the first salvo, he could be potentially sending a signal to circling predators that he believes he is open to a takeover bid.

What more encouragement could they need?

So, when everyone keeps asking who, if anyone, will buy Time Warner, do consider the possibility that the tables could just as easily be turned and someone could bid for Fox.

I'm one for sayings and one of my favourites is about hunting. They say a hunter going after a bear is only a hunter until the moment he fires the first shot. Then he becomes the hunted.

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