Since Murdoch's News Corp. shook up the media world with an ambitious $5 billion proposal to acquire Dow Jones & Co. , which the Bancrofts control, the focus largely has been on the potential upside to both parties.
Eyeing a shrewd way to jump-start his company's looming business channel, Murdoch would instantly gain respect and the coveted content of the Dow Jones holdings, including the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, MarketWatch (the publisher of this report) and Dow Jones Newswires.
For their part, the Bancrofts would enjoy an entirely different kind of reward. By selling their long-held jewel, the family members would become wealthier than they probably ever could have imagined, pretty much overnight.
A majority of Bancroft family members originally opposed the offer, saying that they wanted to maintain control of Dow Jones while fretting about what the company could become in Murdoch's hands. Some of its members appear to be willing, at least, to hear Murdoch out.
Murdoch has parried by insisting that he made a fair proposal, though it wouldn't surprise anyone if he eventually raised it from his original overture of $60 a share.
So far, in the first few weeks, we've seen the first moves of an elaborate chess game.
Fox means business
The clock may soon be ticking for News Corp.
The media giant said that it planned to launch its Fox Business Channel in the fourth quarter. If Roger Ailes and Neil Cavuto, the Fox News stalwarts who will be spearheading the venture, were counting on using the newly acquired staff of Dow Jones, this means that Murdoch should hope to wrap up the deal by, say, Labor Day.
Of course, Ailes and Cavuto wouldn't have much problem recruiting good journalists on their own. As soon as they announced the plans for the Fox channel, resumes started pouring in. I know this to be true because of all people, was besieged by journalist friends who wanted me to give them Cavuto's telephone number. (Fortunately for Cavuto and myself, I didn't have it.)
I've contended that Murdoch's chief interest has been to fortify his business channel with top-flight content.
Conceptually, the game plan is brilliant. If you're starting a business-news venture, you might as well get the best talent on board, right?
I don't reckon that the senior executives of Fox News will be lolling away in the sand this summer.
The media have speculated about whether the Bancrofts will ultimately part with Dow Jones, at any price. But the speculation has largely been futile. The family is famously divided on this issue and said to contain factions upon factions.
I'm wondering how long it will take for the family to reach a decision. At what point might Murdoch throw up his hands and say, "The hell with it?"
As in all high-profile mergers and acquisitions, the dealmakers' egos are on the line as much as anything. Murdoch, who has made a career out of sticking a finger in the media establishment's eye all over the world, would love nothing more than to do it one more time.
Despite his wealth and global success, Murdoch has long been treated like an outsider in the parlor of the U.S. media elite This must make him smile inwardly, for he knows that while "serious" journalists snicker at the sensational New York Post headlines, they're also eagerly thumbing the paper's pages to find Page Six, the delicious gossip sheet.
While the same intelligentsia are lamenting the dogmatic, shrill rants on Fox News, they silently curse Murdoch in admiration for finding a large, loyal audience of viewers they either had written off or couldn't reach as effectively.
Anyway, I have good news: The New York Times' Web site has launched a chess blog. The Times says that th move is designed to coincide with the U.S. Chess Championship in Stillwater, Okla. But the timing couldn't be more felicitous for the rest of us media mavens, too.
I suggest that we all start perusing the Gambit, as the Times has coined the blog, so we can better understand the machinations of the chess game, the one being waged by Murdoch and the Bancrofts.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: How will the News Corp-Bancroft showdown turn out?
WEDNESDAY PET PEEVE: CBS is sounding a little shrill itself lately. Its executives have been saying that it's looking more like the inability of its evening-news broadcasts to achieve high ratings is a result of viewers' reluctance to accept a woman as the sole anchor -- even someone as smart and appealing as Katie Couric. I bought into this argument for a while, too. (Nobody's perfect.) Now I'm beginning to reach the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the problem is the show itself. Let's all give the American people a little credit for being smart and knowing what they like.
THE READERS RESPOND to my column asking whether I should feel guilty about going to the lavish Time 100 dinner last week: "I understand your concern about having attended the dinner, but shouldn't it be Time that's embarrassed over leaving George W. Bush off the list? Hey, I cannot stand President Bush, but to leave him off the list while including Queen Elizabeth? Huh?" Ed Pyle
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By Jon Friedman