Are the Murdochs at war over the future of their media empire?

Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with his younger son James is being called into question in the aftermath of the revelation that his company 21st Century Fox was considering selling its film studio and stake in Sky to rival Disney.

The potential sale of Fox has already been interpreted by financial analysts as a recognition by the Murdochs that the company is not large enough to compete in entertainment with global technology giants in an era of streaming media.

However, it also raises the prospect that Rupert has become disillusioned with James’s strategy at Fox and the Sky deal. According to Hollywood Reporter, Rupert has been telling people that the Sky deal risks distracting Fox and is “James’s baby”, as well as the fact that he is concerned his younger son is too fired up, with Lachlan the steadier hand.

Alice Enders, director of research at Enders Analysis, said that if the Sky deal collapsed, in the face of a lengthy regulatory process and political opposition, then it would be seen as a failure for James. “We think that a lot of things could be on the table if the deal does not go through,” she said. “If it doesn’t go through it would compromise the position and the strategy James has taken, it would be a failure.”

Up until this week, it had been presumed that James and Lachlan had a equal role in running the media mogul’s empire. James is chief executive of 21st Century Fox, chairman of Sky but a non-executive director at News Corp, the Murdochs’ news and publishing business and owner of the Times, Sun and Wall Street Journal; Lachlan is co-chairman of Fox and News Corp.

This set-up positioned James as the entertainment head and Lachlan as the news chief, which made sense given that Lachlan began his career in Australian newspapers while James was a successful chief executive of Sky.

However, the sale of large swaths of Fox, including the movie studios and the stake in Sky, would dramatically disrupt this equilibrium, taking away the parts of the business that James seems to enjoy most.

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