Murdoch set to be US television king with $2.5bn offer $2.5bn New World deal to make Murdoch US No 1

US media tie-ups: As News Corp splashes out, regulators say yes to a merger that dwarfs Disney and MGM finds a buyer
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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch was poised yesterday to become the biggest owner of television stations in the US, following a $2.5bn (pounds 1.6bn) all-share offer for New World Communications.

The deal, which marks one of the media mogul's largest acquisitions in recent years, would give his News Corporation control of 10 additional television stations, bringing to 21 the number of Fox affiliates owned directly by the Murdoch television empire.

Each of the big three US networks, CBS, ABC and NBC, has a greater number of affiliates than does Fox, Mr Murdoch's US terrestrial television company. But none of them will own as many stations outright as News Corp if the New World deal is approved by shareholders and regulators.

Analysts said the merger would give Mr Murdoch the ability to showcase new programmes in 10 of the 12 leading US cities, thereby enhancing the value of repeat rights sold to cable and satellite in the lucrative secondary market.

The deal also gives News Corp control of an important US television production company, Stephen J Cannell, an extensive programming library, and a stake in Klasky Csupo, an animation company.

It is likely that programmes distributed in the US on the Fox network will continue to find a market later in the UK, where Mr Murdoch's 40 per cent-owned BSkyB is the big pay-television broadcaster. The X-Files and Melrose Place, both hits on Sky Television, started life on Fox.

The expanded "owned and operated" Fox network in the US could also prove instrumental in ensuring the success of Mr Murdoch's 24-hour news service, for which he has been seeking cable distribution.

"Television today is not just about content," one leading media analyst said. "What you need is some kind of guaranteed distribution." The deal brings together two powerful entrepreneurs in the form of New World's Ron Perelman, the billionaire investor behind the Revlon Group, and Mr Murdoch, whose A$13bn (pounds 6.6bn) company owns television, publishing and newspaper interests around the world. Mr Perelman, who controls New World, has given his blessing to the offer.

News Corp already has a 20 per cent holding in New World, which it bought in 1994 when the company agreed to switch its affiliation from CBS to Fox. News Corp and New World held merger talks earlier this year, but could not agree a price. Since then, New World has been in negotiations to buy King World, a leading programme syndication company. Those talks have been suspended.

New Corp is offering 1.45 preferred limited-voting shares for each New World share, valued at about $27, against a price of about $24 offered by Mr Murdoch during the initial negotiations. Mr Murdoch will maintain his control of News Corp.

Yesterday's developments leave King World without a buyer, and analysts said News Corp was unlikely to proceed with the negotiations. King World's roster of games shows attracts much older viewers than those who have driven the growth of the Fox network in recent years.

Some analysts suggested yesterday that New World had entered into talks with King World only to force Mr Murdoch back to the negotiating table and to raise his offer.

The News Corp-New World deal was seen as a boost to the reputation of the traditional television business, which some have claimed would be destroyed over time by the advent of cable and satellite.

It also marks a further step in the consolidation of the television industry in the US, which has seen the main networks jockeying to obtain control of affiliates. By owning stations outright, big broadcasters can ensure distribution for their own programmes.

Mr Murdoch is understood to believe the mainstream broadcasting sector will remain profitable for decades to come.

But he has hedged his bets by establishing satellite systems and a new digital direct-to-home service in the United States.

He also unveiled a high-stakes alliance earlier this month with Leo Kirch, the Bavarian broadcaster, to launch digital satellite services in Germany, and plans to introduce digital television in the UK.

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