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
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
’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
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
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
But then, if the boss’s daughter seems unable to convince Sky of that,
what chance has anyone else?