Enter Rupert Murdoch, in pursuit of HBO

With play for Time Warner, 21st Century Fox may spark new round of media consolidation

Lena Dunham, creator and star of ‘Girls’, one of the show attracting Murdoch to HBO. Photograph: Home Box Office Inc

Lena Dunham, creator and star of ‘Girls’, one of the show attracting Murdoch to HBO. Photograph: Home Box Office Inc

 

Rupert Murdoch is after the Iron Throne – sort of. He has come for the company responsible for Game of Thrones, HBO, through an $80 billion bid for its parent, Time Warner. The offer by 21st Century Fox has been rebuffed, and no discussions are currently taking place, it said, but a renewed bid is deemed both likely and likely to be successful, on the basis that the price will be right.

The combined company, which would have total revenues of $65 billion, could have knock-on effects for the global media landscape. Murdoch’s empire, if it does manage to get its hands on Time Warner, will sell off the latter’s news network CNN in order to avoid a conflict with its own Fox News.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Google snapped up CNN,” speculated Porter Bibb, a managing partner at the US investment bank Mediatech Capital Partners in an interview with Bloomberg TV. So yes, there could be some intriguing and not altogether comforting consequences from this deal, which will also unite two movie studios, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

For Murdoch, it is HBO, the US pay-TV maker of True Detective and Girls, starring Lena Dunham, pictured, that is the prize. “It’s a huge money-maker with huge potential, and probably the only [possible] Netflix-killer that’s in the world right now,” said Bibb. Indeed, BSkyB, in which Murdoch still has a 39 per cent stake, already knows the value of HBO content. In 2011, it struck an exclusive deal with HBO to show its content in Britain and Ireland and created a whole new channel – Sky Atlantic – around it.

But if the ascendant Netflix is a dirty word for the likes of HBO and BSkyB, then both Netflix and a combined Time Warner and 21st Century Fox are mighty giants compared to, say, most humble national broadcasters.

This deal, if it goes ahead, might be brilliant for Murdoch (83), the Murdoch business legacy and whoever snaps up CNN in the aftermath, but the media industry consolidation that it would bring about can hardly be seen as attractive by anybody else.