Star Wars: return of the Digger

If Rupert Murdoch's new US satellite deal comes off, it could be his biggest coup of all. He may be able to look down on America and say it's mine at last.

Rupert Murdoch likes America; he has taken its nationality, and Beverly Hills is where he calls home. It is just that he cannot get enough of it. Now, after years of frustration at the hands of regulators in Washington and rival media titans like Ted Turner, he is opening a new battlefront - in space.

Murdoch announced last week that he is joining forces with a small but spunky satellite broadcaster in Colorado named EchoStar. The pact has its uncertainties and could yet founder. But for now, rattled competitors have renamed EchoStar "Death Star".

The deal could be a watershed for Murdoch. Within a few years, it could give him a new and prolific source of revenue in the US. Moreover, it promises finally to give him unfettered access to the living rooms of America for his Fox television network and its nascent all-news spin off, the Fox News Channel. His struggle for television turf in the United States, that has landed him in one nasty skirmish after another, would effectively be won.

Globally, it would mean even more. With America opened up to him, Murdoch's quest to become the broadcasting master of the world, feeding the screens of two thirds of the planet's population, would be complete. His other satellite interests already include stakes in BSkyB, the sister system in Japan, JSkyB, and StarTV, based in Hong Kong and beaming into China.

The foundation of Murdoch's television interests in America is the Fox network itself. Still aimed primarily at a young and largely ethnic viewership, Fox began seriously to threaten the established Big Three - ABC, CBS and NBC - in 1994, when Murdoch purchased New World Communications and seven affiliates in key markets defected to the Fox family. Fox has since acquired crucial sports events rights, including in recent months rights to the baseball World Series and the Super Bowl.

It was the New World deal that gave Murdoch his first grief. First the NAACP, the huge Black American civil rights organisation, and subsequently NBC fought hard to have the purchase annulled by Washington on the grounds that it violated broadcast foreign ownership limits. The case presented was that even if Murdoch had taken US citizenship, the News Corp holding company remained Australian. Murdoch ultimately beat off the challenge. He was admittedly helped when NBC discovered it needed space on Murdoch's Star satellite and hastily withdrew the complaint.

His launch last October of the Fox News Channel, however, has triggered a new, still more vicious dispute. Murdoch has for years craved controlling a serious US-based news organisation on the model of CNN, founded by Mr Turner. Fox News is struggling, however, for one critical reason: Murdoch cannot get enough cable systems to distribute it. Most particularly, Time Warner Cable, the second largest in the country, reneged on a deal at the last moment to carry it. Among markets still not receiving Fox News is New York. He makes no secret of his suspicion that Time Warner, which last year purchased Turner Broadcasting and made Mr Turner a company vice president, acted to protect CNN from competition.

There has followed a lurid exchange of insults between Murdoch and Turner. In interviews and in depositions to the courts, Turner has called Murdoch a "scumbag" and repeatedly likened him to Hitler. Murdoch's New York tabloid, the New York Post, returned fire by suggesting that Turner, who suffers from depression, had stopped taking the pills and had lost his marbles.

The EchoStar deal should give Time Warner and all the competing US cable and satellite companies reasons to tremble. Firstly, between them ASkyB, with MCI's help, and EchoStar will own 52 per cent of all the satellite broadcasting slots already awarded by the US government - far more than DirecTV, currently the largest US satellite broadcaster, which has only 28 per cent. It will also have a huge number of broadcast frequencies.

With this capacity, ASkyB will be able to offer 500 channels, with perfect picture quality and sound. Most importantly, however, it should also allow the company to "spotbeam" local television channels to individual markets, something that existing satellite companies cannot do. In other words, in Baltimore, a household with ASkyB would get the local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, as well as the usual satellite fare of sports and movie channels. This would rob cable of its only obvious advantage over satellite. No wonder shares of the main US cable companies plunged last week.

ASkyB may take a little longer to take flight than the hyperbole of last week suggested, but sceptics should take care. BSkyB, after all, hardly had a glorious beginning. Now it is a jewel in the News Corp crownn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence