At the age of 22, Rupert Murdoch inherited a chain of Australian newspapers following the death of his father in 1952. Fifteen years after taking over the family business and following a series of acquisitions, Murdoch had amassed a portfolio of newspapers worth more than $50 million.
Today, Murdoch is one of the most influential people in the media industry, with business interests that span television broadcasting and entertainment content to newspapers and book publishing. The two empires that he built over the last six decades—News Corp (NWS) and Fox Corporation (FOX)—own well-established media properties that operate in five continents including The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, HarperCollins, and the New York Post.
According to Forbes' 2020 list of wealthiest Americans, Rupert Murdoch and his family rank number 28 with an estimated net worth of $17.1 billion. Here's how Murdoch turned a small family newspaper company into two separate multibillion-dollar media conglomerates.
- A native of Australia and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Rupert Murdoch began building his media empire in 1952 when he inherited the family newspaper company.
- Murdoch is credited for creating the modern tabloid, encouraging his newspapers to publish human interest stories focused on controversy, crime, and scandals.
- Murdoch's media empire includes Fox News, Fox Sports, the Fox Network, The Wall Street Journal, and HarperCollins.
- In March 2019, Murdoch sold the majority of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets to the Walt Disney Company for $71.3 billion.
Inheriting a Newspaper Company
Murdoch's path to entrepreneurial success started at an early age when he was exposed to the ins and outs of journalism. In Jerome Tuccille’s book Rupert Murdoch: Creator of a Worldwide Media Empire, Murdoch explained, “I was brought up in a publishing home, a newspaper man's home, and was excited by that, I suppose. I saw that life at close range and, after the age of ten or twelve never really considered any other."
His father, Sir Keith Murdoch, took control of News Corp Australia, known as News Limited at the time, in 1949. The company was originally founded in 1923 by James Edward Davidson, and it published a handful of popular newspapers in Australia.
Shortly after graduating from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Rupert Murdoch inherited the business following the unexpected death of his father. Before returning to Australia, he took on an apprenticeship role at the Daily Express in London. There he developed a better understanding of the entire operations of a regular newspaper. Murdoch became the managing director of News Corp Australia at the age of 22.
Murdoch did not take long to implement changes to the newspapers he had taken over. Once referred to as the inventor of the ''modern tabloid'' by The Economist, his newspapers began to focus on more eye-catching headlines that principally centered around stories of scandal and controversy. This new approach to journalism resulted in a spike in the circulation of his papers.
Expanding Through Global Acquisitions
Murdoch's newspaper holdings grew over time as a result of multiple acquisitions. In 1956, he purchased The Sunday Times, a newspaper distributed in Western Australia, four years after he bought a failing daily newspaper in Sydney called The Mirror. Under Murdoch's management, the paper became the region's most circulated afternoon newspaper. When Murdoch was 34, he founded Australia's first national daily newspaper, The Australian.
Murdoch began to expand his business interest outside of Australia in 1968. He moved to the United Kingdom and acquired several tabloids including the News of the World and The Sun. He then moved to the United States in 1973 and once again conducted a series of acquisitions. His first purchase was the San Antonio News, followed by the Star in 1974. Later in his career, he bought New York magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, and The Times of London, which was founded in 1785.
Harper & Row, a book publishing company, became part of the News Corp family in 1987. News Corp acquired another book publisher, Collins, a couple of years later. Both publishers were subsequently merged and formed HarperCollins.
Murdoch made his biggest purchase when he bought Wall Street Journal parent company, Dow Jones, in 2007 for $6 billion, ending a century of ownership by the wealthy Bancroft family. Under Murdoch, the Journal has shifted away from focusing exclusively on business and now has become more of a general-interest publication.
One of Murdoch's first major U.S. acquisitions was his purchase of the New York Post, which he bought in 1976 and subsequently sold for a profit in 1988; he repurchased the Post in 1993 and has owned it since.
In 1981, Marc Rich and Marvin Davis bought 20th Century FOX Film Corporation. Rich was indicted with more than 60 counts of criminal charges that ranged from tax evasion and wire fraud to trading with Iran during an oil embargo. As a result, he fled the United States as a fugitive. Murdoch seized that opportunity and acquired Rich's stake in the company in 1984 for $250 million. He later purchased Davis’s remaining interest in FOX for another $325 million. Murdoch also bought a number of independent television stations. These companies later came together to form the Fox Broadcasting Company. Fox is also responsible for a few cable channels, including FX and FXX.
In 1988, Murdoch announced that he was planning to launch a television network in the United Kingdom. Those plans became a reality on Feb. 5, 1988, when Sky News went live. Until 1997, Sky News was the only 24-hour news broadcasting station in Britain. Since its inception, the company has burned through a lot of money, most of which was financed with debt from a number of banks. In an effort to mitigate the company’s losses, Murdoch agreed to merge Sky News with British Satellite Broadcasting to form BSkyB in November 1990. BSkyB, now Sky UK Limited, became the largest digital subscription television company in the United Kingdom. As of 2018, Murdoch sold his interest in Sky UK to media giant Comcast.
The Bottom Line
Rupert Murdoch is the heavyweight champion in the world of journalism and media. He built his empire primarily by conducting a series of strategic acquisitions around the world. As the son of a successful and highly respected media proprietor, Murdoch grew up knowing that he would follow in his father's footsteps.
He spent the majority of his life expanding and diversifying the business interests of the newspaper company he inherited. For decades Murdoch has used his conglomerate News Corp to acquire a number of internationally recognizable media brands. He has had a tremendous amount of success with purchasing failing news companies and turning them around. Murdoch also built the broadcasting giant, 21st Century Fox, from scratch, and was responsible for creating the Fox News Channel, the dominant cable news network in the United States.
In March 2019, Murdoch's empire got a bit smaller. Walt Disney Company (DIS) announced it had successfully completed its merger with 21st Century Fox, a deal valued at $71.3 billion. Disney acquired a wide range of Fox's entertainment assets, including Fox's movie and TV studios, a library of films such as Avatar and X-Men, along with a slew of popular TV productions such as The Simpsons and Modern Family. Disney also acquired Fox's networks, including National Geographic, and gained a controlling interest in streaming service Hulu. After the merger, a new company was formed, Fox Corp, comprised of the assets not included in the Disney acquisition—Fox News, Fox Network, Fox Sports, and the Fox TV stations.