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Why James Murdoch could be angling for a top job at Disney

Meg James and Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- Could James Murdoch soon be in the running to succeed Robert Iger?

That's one of several intriguing scenarios that could be at play as talks between 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney Co. gain momentum, according to two executives close to the process who were not authorized to discuss the situation.

"It would be the craziest ending ever to the Bob Iger CEO sweepstakes," said a third senior media executive who declined to be identified discussing 21st Century Fox's asset sale. "Maybe dangling a job for James might be what it takes to get a deal done."

Insiders and industry veterans say there are several reasons Disney has emerged as a front-runner in the auction for Fox's Los Angeles-based entertainment assets. Such a large transaction -- estimated at more than $60 billion -- would entail a stock transfer that would enable press baron Rupert Murdoch and his family to become leading shareholders in the world's most powerful entertainment brand, wielding influence for decades to come.

For Fox's Chief Executive, James Murdoch, a deal might also lead to a plum role within the Disney organization at a time when Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Iger approaches his proposed 2019 retirement. Disney for years has sought a successor for Iger, whose contract has been extended three times since he became CEO in 2005.

Representatives of 21st Century Fox declined to comment. A spokesperson for Disney did not respond.

 

The talks with Fox are advanced but remain fluid and Disney has not promised James Murdoch a prominent role, knowledgeable people said. Disney has also tended to groom leaders from within its ranks.

But people close to Fox believe that James Murdoch's experience as a leading media executive and his desire to remain a pivotal player have become factors as Fox weighs whether to unload much of its entertainment holdings to Disney.

A deal between Fox and Disney could create "a path for James Murdoch to have a bigger role at Disney," said Tuna Amobi, a media and entertainment analyst with CFRA Research. "It could get him into the mix."

James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's younger son who turns 45 this month, long has been heavily involved in Fox's management team, unlike his older brother who left the company for nearly a decade. Lachlan Murdoch returned to the company in 2014 and now serves as co-chairman with his father.

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