“As the new millennium dawned, global television tracked the rise of the sun across the world” (Thussu, 2006, p. 1). The twenty-first century brought with it the opportunity for millions of people to be able to communicate internationally in different time zones (Thussu, 2006). In such a global village that we live in, competition plays a magnetic role for attracting ‘media giants’ to be present across borders spreading like wild fire.
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An apparition now haunts the world: The birth of a mercantile media structure is globally dominated by a diminutive numeral of influential ‘media giants’, mostly U.S.-based transnational media corporations (TNMCs). This structure continuously strives to strengthen the foundation of the global market and works towards advancing commercial values, while negatively portrays journalism and culture. ‘It is a disaster for anything but the most superficial notion of democracy–a democracy where, to paraphrase John Jay’s maxim, those who own the world ought to govern it.’ (McChesney, 1997).
The development of this mercantile system is very recent. Previously in history i.e. 1980’s, the structure was tilted towards national boundaries. Communication and media industries were locally regulated and owned while importing limited music, books, TV shows, and films for decades. The decade of the 1980s saw the world’s economy become more fully privatized. Current trends in privatization and free market economies have led to an international consolidation of media companies. The trend towards consolidation has begun to emerge worldwide (Gershon, 1997, p. 5).The pressure implanted by the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. government in the 1980s to deregulate and privatize media and communication systems which overlapped with the new digital and satellite technologies led to the consequences towards the growth of transnational ‘media giants’ (McChesney, 1997).
The Major US ‘media giants’ which dominate numerous universal media and international media-related markets are Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, and NBC Universal among a few others. They are spread widely nationally and across national borders. All are based in the United States, the central nation, with broad semi peripheral and some peripheral market activities (McPhail, 2006).
This paper will concentrate on the ‘media giant’ Rupert Murdoch and his empire ‘News Corporation’, one of the main benefactors of privatization of infrastructure of global communication. It will briefly describe the history of the existence of the company whilst focusing on an analysis of the international expansion strategy that Murdoch adapted during his journey to acquire the world of media. While analysing different strategies; as well as geographic expansion, there will be an effort to decipher the relation of the tools of extension to the powerful existence of different theories which have played a vital role in the establishment of media structures.
Historical Background of News Corporation
Changes in technology have pushed the flow of transnational traffic in media products. This development has mainly benefitted media conglomerates like News Corporation which lead media content and delivery mechanism by owning numerous networks and production facilities. This commercial dominance has raised many concerns about cultural homogenization. However, an obvious effort has been noted towards regionalisation and localisation of content to match local and cultural precedence of viewers given the heterogeneity of the universal market (Thussu, 2007)
The President and founder of the News Corporation Ltd, Keith Rupert Murdoch, is a legendary example of a tycoon from his era who contributed immensely in the 19th century towards the tradition of the great ‘press barons’ (Gershon, 1997). Murdoch, in one of his speeches said that “For better or for worse, our company (The News Corporation Ltd.) is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values.” Rupert Murdoch’s universal vision of a new communications atmosphere is made up of both a corporate strategy and a social vision.
The company’s existence can be traced to the year 1923, in Australia, when News limited was set up in Adelaide with the intention of circulating a daily newspaper. Rupert Murdoch’s father Sir Keith Murdoch invested in minority interest in News limited in the year of 1949. The company was then officially established in South Australia in 1979 (Gershon, 1997). News Corporation is an entertainment based transnational media company which diversifies within eight different media sectors including Newspapers, Book Publishing, Magazines and Inserts, Filmed Entertainment, Television, Direct Broadcast Satellite Television, Cable Network Programming and other. Geographically the activities of News Corporation are spread out primarily in the United Sates, the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, Australia, Asia and the Pacific Basin (News Corporation Press Releases, 2010).
News Corporation is engaged in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Ireland in the publishing business of magazines, newspapers through its variety of subsidiaries. The Company publishes English language books worldwide via its wholly owned subsidiary HarperCollins Publishers. Furthermore their subsidiaries allow them to be also involved in the enlargement, invention and allotment of network and television programming as well as broadcasting television stations. It also owns shares in BSkyB and V, and Sky Italia which are involved in the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) business. The company currently owns the entire FOX franchise of broadcast networks; as well FOX film studios responsible for many blockbusters (News Corporation Annual Report, 2007)
The birth of free flow of information after World War II contributed majorly towards the liberation of media markets. This theory lead to the existence of modernization theory, it also played a vital role in the decision of privatization. Murdoch has strategized to make competent use of liberation of cross-media ownership widely in the USA and the British media markets. He also strategically entered the private satellite operators into the arena of telecommunications and broadcasting. News Corporation risked a large sum on investment by leasing time on new satellite ventures such as Astra and Asia Sat (Thussu, 2000), Murdoch ‘has been able to create a truly international media corporation, at the heart of which is satellite television’. (Thussu, 2000, p. 107)
All parent companies and subsidiaries are united through a common owner Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch demonstrates an expansion strategy through vertical integration, which has played a vital role in its most crucial times. The company was one of early migratory conglomerates of vertical integration, this move helped News Corporation to utilize the profits through its content operation via their existence in numerous distribution sectors of the media value chain. This move has certainly been a tactical way to achieve authority and probably produce a profitable position in various media markets (Flew and Gilmour, 2003). Murdoch chose to adapt a ‘borrow and buy’ philosophy that enabled him to debt leverage his way to the very top. Each successful acquisition would generate profitable results however that required greater patience.
Foundations of News Corporation in Australia
After his father’s death on his return to Australia in 1954 Murdoch instantly started to struggle to increase the circulation of his Adelaide newspaper. Despite the negative attitude of other publishers and the constant underrating by his opposition he dedicated all his efforts to the print business with a passion, and learned the techniques of every aspect of newspaper production. He published exciting news stories in an effective writing style, soon making returns to Murdoch’s small holdings. He strategically took risks by acquiring smaller newspapers that were not doing well and then turned them around (Tuccille, 2003)
Murdoch in a few years of success bought his first television station in July 1959, in Adelaide, calling it Southern TV. He was an innovative young man who throughout was in search for new communication technologies continuously making an effort to amalgamate them into his existing businesses. Later in a year he took over the Daily Mirror in Sydney and its associated Sunday paper for $4 million; the paper soon enough was known to be notorious for exciting and bizarre headlines and articles about sex and mayhem. He took immediate action to change this image and established TheAustralian in the mid of1964, as a national newspaper in Canberra. This paper was a twist from the norm; it discussed social issues and government policies and rapidly acquired the respect of journalists. (Encyclopedia of Business, 2010)
Expansion to Britain
Murdoch’s past in the U.K., from his days in Oxford, had left in him bitterness for the English upper class; they had made him feel like an outsider, as if they regarded Australians as inferior being and he planned to strike back at them. He had planned to expand to Britain at the first opportunity. As evident, Murdoch has no set strategy to operate his business; however he expanded internationally through making strategic alliances in Britain which later he transformed into acquisitions. This is evident as he become a principle investor in 1969 for “News of the World” (a newspaper previously owned by the Carr family) while facing direct competition by Robert Maxwell, who had an infamous reputation in the news circle. Murdoch gradually became the sole proprietor for “News of the World” by manipulating complete control of the corporation (Tuccille, 2003)
In the same year he had an opportunity to take over a dying newspaper at its true cost called the Sun formerly known as the Daily Herald, a predominantly left-wing newspaper. The unions at that time felt that Murdoch would have been a better choice to keep the newspaper viable and trade union jobs unharmed, as opposed to Maxwell who had also shown interest in buying the newspaper. Murdoch revamped the newspaper into a tabloid which was greatly criticized by many of the British newspaper establishments. However Murdoch’s rebellious nature ignored the criticism and planned to assemble a team of reporters and promotion experts including many from Australia. By the 1970s the Sun had become Britain’s most popular publication with an increase in circulation to 1.7 million, which at present is replaced by 4 million. News Corporation has grown beyond its newspapers origin as it continues to be the largest newspaper producer in the world. In addition News Corporation owns many different British newspapers including the prestigious, The Times, New of the World, and The Sunday Times (Gershon, 1997).
Murdoch uses cross-media ownership and synergies as another strategy, resulting in him being able to promote his ventures across, virtually, all media segments. There is an expectation by News Corporation for major synergies to be created between U.S. satellite operations and its global business. ‘These synergies are part technology-related, for example by sharing security software or electronic programme guides, and part content related, as for the example the combined bidding for global sports rights.’ The power of cross-platform synergies is most evident in association to motion picture studios and television/cable platforms and networks. This is the vicinity where synergistic potential of power in relation to media supply chain are mainly noticeable (Gunther, 2003).
Furthermore, Murdoch’s launch of Sky Digital in 1989, a four channel satellite television service, was afterwards merged with a competitor named “British Satellite Broadcasting” to form “British Sky Broadcasting”, in 1990. The merger instantly became a success with its multi-channel subscription service which was positioned to dominate interactive digital television (Forreste, 2010). BSkyB provides a wide portfolio of genres of television programming like entertainment, news, sports etc. in order to cater to a wide variety of target audience. Sky News and Sports have seen trends of consistent growth and viewership (McPhail, 2006). Moreover, BSkyB is now Europe’s most profitable broadcaster with 40% holding of U.K. news corporations; though at one point it led New Corporation towards bankruptcy due to a week global economy and lack of cash flow (Guardian, 2010)
Murdoch’s media power supported Margret Thatcher with her struggle to liberalize regulation on cross media ownership. The victory of the British labour party in the 1997 election supported by the Sun lead to the ‘Murdochization’ of the media, which transformed the media background in the U.K. and other countries. Since then, entertainment and infotainment have emphasised at the price of the public service function of the media (Thussu, 2006).
Expansion to Europe
Having established a base in the U.K., Murdoch expanded his business into Continental Europe by establishing partnerships in Germany and Italy. News Corporation penetrated the satellite television industry in 1983. It possessed many assets in Satellite Television PLC (SATV), which during the 1980’s was set up to supply to Northern European audience. After two years alongside the scrutiny of the BBC, SATV, renamed Sky Channel and consisted approximately, of three million subscribers in 11 European countries. Murdoch was not encouraged in further increasing his acquisitions as he had already forged a union with, French television giant Canal Plus to create paid-television-services across Europe. Having only conquered 6% of Western Europe, few homes had cable television; the market for pay-TV was unreached (Fiero, 2002). Now News Corporations central business policy is to use soccer as a fuel to powered satellite dish sales across Europe. Murdoch is using sports programming to enter new markets; he has acquired premium sports rights for his network and is using an identical content approach that he pursued with BSkyB (News Corporation Annual Report, 2007).
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Expansion to the U.S.A.
Murdoch’s journey to enter the U.S. market began in 1976 when he acquired the New York Post. Following this, in September 1985 Murdoch decided to become an American citizen in order to satisfy the legal requirements of the U.S. markets that only a U.S. citizen was permitted to own assets in the U.S. television industry. Later that year News Corporation entered the U.S. media market, by purchasing Metromedia’s seven television stations amounted at $2 billion. Murdoch not only took over these seven stations but also gained their market rank and their competitive position. This purchase resulted News Corporation to build the foundation of Fox television network. In 1986, News Corporation purchased 20th Century Fox for $1.55 billion (Fiero, 2002)
From Murdoch’s early stages of business acquisitions recognized the significance of vertical integration as a strategy for launching a new business. In the two years Murdoch was guaranteed to create a stable source of programming and readymade distribution channels. The Fox Television Network was launched in April 1987 with 108 affiliates. Fox network opted for a highly differentiated strategy in comparison to the other U.S. networks. They plan to aim their programming towards a younger and urban audience. Fox introduced three distinguishing programming formats, reality based, counter culture and tabloid television (Albarran, Chan-Olmsted, O. Wirt, 2006)
In the early years of development Murdoch faced heavy financial losses, however in a few years the network was able to reach 91% of United States through an amalgamation of VHF and low powered UHF stations. The network also transformed its programming from three nights a week to five nights. The financial recovery of these loses how Murdoch’s long term strategy in which he is prepared to suffer losses in the short run with the expectation of gaining long term returns in the future. Murdoch’s synergizing strategy helped him save Fox network in its initial years by cross investing from his other well to do companies (Gershon, 1997). Further to this ‘Mr Murdoch and his management spend a good deal of time lobbying for support for proposed mergers and acquisitions and for favourable changes in the law such as those relating to media ownership and digital piracy in the USA.’ (Curwen, 1999)
Other assets under News Corporation in the U.S. are the Weekly Standard, Hughes Electronics with a 34 % stake in the company and DIRECTV. The vertically expansion acquisition of DirecTV is a fundamental piece representing Murdoch’s media empire, providing him with a lucrative distribution platform in the US, which can be used to offset the rising influence of large cable operators such as Comcast. There is a strong concern that News Corporation might not be able to advantage from its economies of scale and from efficient allocation of resources as of its vertical structure due to variations in strategies with DirecTV. Joint ventures with DirecTV are necessary for absolute vertical integration which allows News Corporation to adapt to an “incomplete” vertical structure. “It may be added that Mr Murdoch’s position is so dominant that there is a niggling fear that he could yet put recent advances at risk, although he has recently made clear that the immediate strategy is to absorb and improve DIRECTV rather than make further acquisitions.” (Curwen, 1999). In 2005 News Corporation bought inter-mix media which holds myspace.com and many other famous social networking websites. In 2007 News Corporation attained Dow Jones, the publishers of the famous Wall Street Journal for $ 5.6 billion (News Corporation Annual Report, 2007)
One of Murdoch’s moves has lead to a shift in the Australian market as he announced to move the head quarters from his native land to the U.S. This has created uproars and criticism by many, however the U.S. government subsided this protest by announcing that this move was in the best interest of the U.S. market (Shah, 2004).
Expansion to the Asian Markets
News Corporation further expanded to the Asian media market in the mid 1990’s by investing in a joint venture with Phoenix TV and Star TV. Star TV then acquired Hutchvision Hong Kong Ltd; the very first satellite television licence in 1998. Very soon Star TV in China realised that Pan Asian broadcasting was not a practical strategy to adopt for Asian markets. Hence, it divided the media services into northern and southern i.e. China and India, respectively, as their main target. The flourishing Zee TV which is a joint venture of Star TV in India broadcasted in their native language ‘Hindi’ further emphasised for Star TV to go local. Therefore Star TV continuously was on a quest to seek joint venture prospects in the district (Chalaby, 2005)
‘News Corporation has used an array of strategies to consolidate its position in Asia, potentially the world’s biggest television market’.(Thussu, 2000, p. 112). STAR TV network was set up to cater Asian audiences to global corporations and promoters. The enhancement of technology in satellites and dishes as well as the rapid expansion of liberalization and government deregulation certifies a concrete broadcasting future in Asia. STAR TV aims to stay in Asia on the very top of Satellite broadcasting. To capitalize on viewership Star TV is moving towards local language fare (McPhail, 2006)
Star TV has assertively taken on the strategy of indigenisation in offering localized channels. This is truly an example of going ‘glocal’ this strategy demonstrates how the global can include both the transnational and geo-culture by nominating the local to sustain the leading flow. Their localized channels include Star Chinese channel (for Taiwan), Star Japan, Star Plus and Star News for India, VIVIA cinema for the Philippines. ESPN Star Sports a joint venture of ESPN and Star to provide coverage of Pan Asian and international sports event is Asia. Murdoch’s Star Select are gradually localizing their content to cross into the gulf region. This ‘Arabisation’ includes the use of subtitles for American programs and sensitising language as well as the depictions of sex and nudity (Thussu, 2006).
In Asia News Corporation are faced with many burdens; political, economical, cultural and social. In order to eliminate these barriers to entry this works hand-in-hand with morality, democracy as well as with capitalism. This liberation of mechanisms for Asia is a result of communication, capitalism and democracy which create greater access, choice prosperity and social equality (Weber, 1995).
With News Corporation Murdoch has created an international empire of media, technology and sports franchise. His vast multimedia holdings have always been global in nature. With satellite system in Europe (BSkyB) Asia (Star TV) and North America (direct TV) Murdoch may be on his way to create a global media infrastructure (McPhail, 2006).
There are three main strategies News Corporations business model is based on vertical control and horizontal networking, vicious quest of market expansion and the leveraging of community, and political elite opinion. In context of globalisation theory the company has been steadily occupied in structuring a foundation of geographically dispersed assets via mergers and acquisitions, direct foreign investment and strategic partnerships. This mechanism is interconnected, equally fundamental and established on the capability of Murdoch to build connection between media, political and economic system in the joint ventures of the corporation’s financial development (Arsenault and Castells, 2008)
News Corporation consists of many various businesses within the umbrella of the company and therefore when examining the overall strategy of News Corporation, one needs to understand and scrutinize the various, individual, tactics that each sub-business applies in order to stay ahead of their competition in each respected industry. When examining Murdoch’s growth-tactics, in order to expand the News Corporation Empire, it would be adequate to state that he practices very aggressive strategies despite the industry divergences. In the print industry the company has adopted a cost-leadership strategy (van den Bosch, de Man, 1997), in order to monopolize the industry competition. When it comes to the television media, i.e. Fox, the company has spread in many directions, and their assets are vertically integrated to live up to the strategies of expansion in order to benefit from long-term returns.
News Corporation has always been in quest to search power more than distribution, and the introduction of new digital technologies has created an opportunity to develop that type of power. The proceedings that help the continuous growth of News Corporation are the mature, non-digital distribution activities. Murdoch complies with a three-phase strategy in which ‘profitable, high growth old businesses move the company ahead and please investors while mature parts of the company fund the growth areas of the future.’ (Turow, 2009). Diversification of News Corporation might create a possibility to enhance the position as more than one sector of the business is experiencing damaging changes. The major issue with that would be that Company would have to either adjust to an absolutely new business, or they would have to stick to what they know and hope they can keep ahead in the media market.
Globally News Corporation thinks of itself more grandly than other media conglomerates. Like Disney another major media conglomerate, News Corporation necessitates for synergy among subsidiaries, global reach, and the use of new technologies. Unlike the other giants, News Corporation does not run on a business model of an official planning department. Criticism has been highlighted upon the way the company does not undertake acquisitions on the grounds of comprehending synergies with the core businesses, but mainly have the incentive of acquiring an asset on a lower price and selling it for a significant profit after it has been turned around. Due to which News Corporation lacks the connectivity to exploit synergies to its full capacity. The company is vastly spread out with very little connectivity.
Murdoch’s strategic vision has always composed of expansion as the key factor. He has deserted his 1980’s high-debt strategy, and has substituted it with more conservative management style. This allows him to be less dependent and exempts him from creating short-term shareholder value and rather focusing on long-term vision even if shareholders and financial markets would likely oppose such actions (Freedman, 1996). Murdoch’s strategies at times seemed risky and unsuitable and were against market norms but his commendable ability to handle the media industry, his fearless risk taking approach, joint with his exemplary familiarity of the media industries and his mystifying capability to sense the popular pulse, still lead to his extraordinary success (Thussu, 2000)
Rupert Murdoch is a businessman. He has built News Corporation’s competitive advantage by continuing to maintain control of his joint ventures with other media giants and by leveraging his ability to influence audiences around the world in order to gain political favours. Authority in every system is attained on the foundation of safe entrant to the others. According to this point of view, Murdoch’s authority is not bound to a particular association with a political actor in a nation at any one point in time. What really matters is his control over multiple connecting points (Arsenault and Castells, 2008). Murdoch quoted ‘The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore, It will be the fast beating the slow’ (Chappelle, 2007).
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