Analysis: News Corp’s Irish interests now range from the ‘Sun’ to Storyful to FM104
Deal to buy Wireless radio stations extends Rupert Murdoch’s influence in Ireland
Rupert Murdoch is adding seven radio stations in Ireland. Photograph: Reuters
Rupert Murdoch, the 85-year-old media mogul worth an estimated $11 billion, (€9.6bn) will substantially increase his interests in Ireland if the takeover of Belfast’s Wireless Group by News Corp is cleared by various regulators.
The group was drawn to Wireless, the company that was created from the ashes of UTV Media plc after it sold its television channels to ITV, by TalkSport. The football-tastic radio station in Britain that was originally set up by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie is a very nice asset indeed.
The acquisition means News Corp’s UK and Ireland publishing business, which trades as News UK, can cross-promote TalkSport, which has live radio rights to English Premier League matches and other football rights, with the digital services of its newspaper titles. These carry online and mobile Premier League video clips through a distribution agreement with rights-holder Sky.
As News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson put it, “We believe the businesses together can be far more than the sum of their parts.”
A side-effect of the deal is that Murdoch’s company now adds six radio stations in the Republic - FM104 and Q102 in Dublin, LMFM in Louth and Meath, Cork’s 96FM and C103, and Live95FM in Limerick - as well as Belfast’s U105.8FM to his publishing interests here.
News UK publishes an Irish edition of the Sun, which has a circulation of about 58,000, while print sales of the Sunday Times stand at about 80,000, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures for the second-half of 2015. The company also launched a digital Ireland edition of The Times last year.
Murdoch and his family own about 14 per cent of News Corp but control about 39 per cent of the voting shares, while a similar dual-class share structure applies at sister company 21st Century Fox, which owns the movie studio 20th Century Fox and 39 per cent of European satellite broadcaster Sky.
Sky is the largest pay-TV provider in Ireland, according to figures from research company Nielsen, while it also sells broadband and telephone services, employing about 900 people in Dublin.
News Corporation, which was split into two companies, News Corp and 21st Century Fox, in 2013, had previously tried to buy all of Sky (then known as BSkyB), but the bid, which faced political opposition at Westminster, was abandoned in the wake of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.
Employees at the Irish radio stations may not have expected to find themselves part of such a large media empire, and it is not yet clear what impact the change in owner will have on their day-to-day operations.
Their fortunes have not been so wonderful of late, with analysts at Davy Research noting in April that they did not expect the Wireless stations in Ireland to participate in an Irish radio advertising recovery this year.
But notwithstanding this and some more intense competition in the Cork market, the stations have maintained either decent or strong listenerships in their franchise area: FM104, for example, is the second most-listened to station in Dublin behind RTÉ Radio 1, with an 11.5 per cent market share in the capital.
When Murdoch dropped into the offices of the Irish Sun in 2012, he was shown how to swing a hurl by its then editor. Wireless employees may not have the opportunity to prepare their own welcome for the octogenarian, but some of his key lieutenants in News UK are likely to pay a visit soon.