James Murdoch, the 21st Century Fox chief executive, is planning to strike out on his own if his company’s pending deal with Walt Disney Co. DIS -0.67% closes, most likely by starting a venture-capital fund to invest in digital and international media businesses, according to people familiar with the matter.
Lachlan Murdoch, James’s older brother, is expected to become chief executive of the remaining Fox company, so-called New Fox, according to people familiar with the matter.
After Disney last December announced an agreement to purchase the bulk of Fox for $52.4 billion, people close to the deal said James Murdoch could wind up taking a senior position at Disney.
On an earnings call in December, CEO Robert Iger said that James Murdoch would help integrate the companies “and during that period of time, he and I will continue to discuss whether there is a role for him here or not.” Inside Disney, a role for him was always seen as uncertain, according to people familiar with the matter.
In recent weeks James Murdoch has begun to tell associates that he isn’t going to Disney, according to people familiar with the matter.
Disney in March announced a reorganization that positions two top executives as potential successors to Mr. Iger: Kevin Mayer, who was named chairman of a new direct-to-consumer and international segment, and parks chief Robert Chapek, who added consumer products to his portfolio.
A Disney spokeswoman couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
A venture fund is one of several new opportunities James Murdoch has been considering, some of the people said. “He views himself as an operator,” said one friend of James Murdoch. “Picking businesses, mentoring business, and running businesses is what he does.”
The decision to sell marked the end of an era for 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his family, which have a 39% voting interest in Fox. The all-stock Disney deal involves the sale of the Twentieth Century Fox TV and film studio, cable networks including FX and National Geographic, international businesses including Fox’s 39% stake in European pay TV company Sky PLC, and a stake in the streaming business Hulu.
The takeover drama may not be over. Cable giant Comcast Corp. is making preparations to potentially pursue a hostile, all-cash bid for these assets, and has lined up the necessary financing, people familiar with the matter say.
Before the Disney deal was reached, Comcast had submitted an offer for the Fox assets that was 16% higher, but Fox turned it down partly over fears that it wouldn’t pass muster with antitrust regulators, according to a regulatory filing last month and people familiar with the situation.
The notion of James Murdoch having a possible role at Disney wasn’t a factor in Fox’s final decision to opt for Disney’s offer over Comcast’s, according to people familiar with Fox’s thinking.
If a sale of the Fox entertainment assets goes through, Lachlan Murdoch would oversee the assets Fox isn’t selling—including the Fox broadcast network, Fox News cable channel and Fox Sports 1.
Lachlan Murdoch currently serves as executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox. He is also executive co-chairman of Wall Street Journal-parent News Corp, in which the Murdoch family holds a 39% voting stake.
John Nallen, currently the chief financial officer of 21st Century Fox, is expected to become the chief operating officer of the so-called New Fox, the people said.
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