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How Rupert Murdoch’s departure will impact Fox’s advertising business

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By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

September 21, 2023 | 8 min read

Is Fox down because Rupert's out? Read the media mogul’s full resignation letter here.

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The media titan has appointed his son, Lachlan Murdoch, to take the helm of both News Corp and Fox / Adobe Stock

Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old media magnate, announced on Thursday that he is retiring from his post as chairman of Fox and News Corp. His son Lachlan Murdoch, who was named operating successor to the sprawling media empire in 2019, will take his father’s place as chairman of both organizations.

In a memo shared with employees, the business behemoth said: “For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan…”

He explained that he will continue to serve as an advisor in his role as chairman emeritus of both Fox and News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch letter

The billionaire, whose media empire encompasses right-leaning outlets including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and the UK’s The Times, also lamented what he views as the troubled state of media, saying in his letter: “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”

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He promised that in his new role as chairman emeritus, he would remain engaged in “the contest of ideas.”

Murdoch’s decision is already causing waves across the media landscape. In particular, some industry leaders have raised concern about Lachlan Murdoch’s leadership at a major moment of transition for the media empire – with Fox fresh off a $71bn sale of its entertainment business to Disney, AI posing new threats to the media and entertainment sectors and economic uncertainty generating fresh tensions globally.

The development could have major implications for the advertising businesses of both Fox and News Corp, experts say.

“Fox’s ad business will suffer a bit. This is a volatile period and Lachlan’s approach basically seems to be to lean into the storm, give Fox’s audience more of the types of content that got them in trouble with [previous] lawsuits [over misinformation and problematic internal culture] and just hope for the best,” says Angelo Carusone, president and chief executive at Media Matters for America, a think tank focused on analyzing and remedying misinformation in conservative media.

“If you’re an advertiser,” he says, “you’ll either be a little more skittish or you’ll exploit Fox’s vulnerability for lower rates.”

He goes so far as to say that Lachlan is “hanging Fox’s future” on Fox News’ provocative commentators Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters. For brands looking to place ad dollars, “that doesn’t really inspire much confidence,” he says.

Others echo the same concerns. “Rupert Murdoch’s departure could increase concerns among advertisers who are concerned about disinformation on [Fox News],” says Ahmed Baba, co-founder and president at Rantt, a social media startup.

Brand safety and suitability, he suggests, could be further endangered for brands considering advertising on the network. “Lachlan Murdoch has been widely reported to be even further to the right of his father politically, so advertisers who have urged Fox News to tone down the conspiracy theories might not be in any better hands with Lachlan.”

Not all leaders in the space are so skeptical of the negative impact on the companies’ advertising businesses, however. Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communication at the University of Louisville, says: “Murdoch’s leaving is not necessarily going to change anything based on brand perception of Fox or News Corp since his son is taking over – keeping everything in the family.” She imagines advertisers’ expectations are likely to remain somewhat consistent.

Nonetheless, Freberg predicts that Lachlan will look to expand Fox’s and News Corp’s advertising potential. “We may see some new opportunities, advertising partnerships and ventures … on TV and other media assets, but also perhaps venture into new channels and touchpoints to reach [wider] audiences.” She says that “there is a chance with this change that new advertisers may want to be part of the next chapter for Fox and News Corp.”

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It’s worth noting, of course, that Murdoch’s decision to step down comes at a time when audience fragmentation across media channels is only growing, challenging traditional media giants like News Corp and Fox to adapt and evolve their models.

As Jo Milmot, PR director at B2B marketing and PR firm The Think Tank, puts it: “Traditional media brands are still navigating their place in the world. While many will survive, their role will be diminished. Advertisers, governments and organizations looking to change behaviors and persuade people to buy or vote will continue to have to use a mix of media channels. That said, we’d be wise to remember that great journalism still has a huge impact – just look at The Times’ (Murdoch-owned) work on the Russell Brand story.”

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