MEDIA HEADLINER: Murdoch’s move gives a new twist to the family soap opera. Murdoch’s flight from the coop has got pundits in a whirl, Matthew Cowen says

If Elisabeth Murdoch is tempted to launch her new production company with a lavish mini-series, she could do worse than to take a look at her own career so far. After all, the punters love a good dynastic saga, and Liz’s journey within her father’s media empire has the scale and supporting cast of a real epic. You can almost imagine the screenwriter’s pitch for Queen Murdoch: ’It’s Lear meets Citizen Kane with a sprinkling of Dallas.’

If Elisabeth Murdoch is tempted to launch her new production

company with a lavish mini-series, she could do worse than to take a

look at her own career so far. After all, the punters love a good

dynastic saga, and Liz’s journey within her father’s media empire has

the scale and supporting cast of a real epic. You can almost imagine the

screenwriter’s pitch for Queen Murdoch: ’It’s Lear meets Citizen Kane

with a sprinkling of Dallas.’



Then, of course, there’s the lead role. The young, attractive,

headstrong daughter, ripe for a Bafta-winning performance from Nicole

Kidman or Angelina Jolie. ’The human interest is understandable,’

Christine Walker says, who handled the Sky media account for several

years as the Zenith chief executive and is now a friend of Murdoch’s.

’She’s a young, pretty girl. She’s a single mum. She’s not boring.’



Aside from the magnetism of its lead female character, the Murdoch

legend has one other feature that makes it irresistible to media

columnists - the mystery surrounding its conclusion. Nobody seems able

to pin down the exact reason why Ms Murdoch so dramatically resigned

from her post as the managing director of Sky Networks last week. But

that’s not going to stop everyone having a damn good guess.



A trawl through recent press reports turns up several juicy theories.

Did Liz’s hard-charging father disapprove of her place on the swinging

London social circuit with her partner, the PR guru Matthew Freud? Did

the arrival of Wendi Deng, Rupert’s glamorous 33- year-old bride, who is

only two years older than her stepdaughter, mean less space for other

women at the top of the family tree? Or did Rupert’s less than subtle

comments on Elisabeth’s family planning arrangements lead her to storm

out of the family business in a justified fit of pique?



A less explored, and possibly more significant, explanation is that the

decision has as much to do with Sky as the Murdoch family. Those who’ve

worked with her insist that Murdoch was far from happy to act as a mere

figurehead, which implies frustration at the company’s direction.



Jim Hytner, the marketing director of Channel 5, who performed the same

role at Sky for five years, says that she gave the broadcaster long-term

value. ’She brought credibility with the production community. Sky was a

purely acquisitions-led company but she had a passion for commissioning

original programming.’



From an advertiser’s perspective, this made Murdoch a potentially

crucial figure at Sky, broadening the station’s appeal through

bargain-basement shows such as Ibiza Uncovered and Dream Team, and

award-winning film projects such as the soon-to-be-released Saving

Grace.



’Our job is to watch what consumers want and then place advertising

appropriately,’ Walker says.



’Elisabeth was passionate about the diversity and choice that Sky

consumers should get. The viewing figures show that she had a good

understanding of what viewers wanted, but when you deliver that it

polarises opinion.’



And there are signs that Murdoch’s penchant for off-the-wall, original

programming was beginning to do just that. For a corporation as

tight-lipped as Sky, the recent comment by Tony Ball, BSkyB’s chief

executive, that the comedy drama The Strangerers was ’disappointing’

amounted to a slap on the wrist.



The fact that BSkyB will not be directly replacing Murdoch suggests that

the argument for Sky having its own creative voice loses a lot of

steam.



In the long run, this could prove the most significant aspect of last

week’s events. After all, with Sky’s exclusive football licence coming

up for renewal this week, the need to broaden the station’s appeal

beyond mere sports fans seems more urgent than ever.



’You want to have as many plates to your armour as possible,’ Walker

says. ’The great thing about Sky’s proposition is that it has levers in

a variety of programming areas and it realises that people want to watch

those things at different times and in different ways. But if you want

to support an economic mix like that, you can’t just rely on

football.’



But then, if the boss’s daughter seems unable to convince Sky of that,

what chance has anyone else?



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).