News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS)(NASDAQ:NWSA) has announced plans to split into two companies, a move that should ring-fence its profitable film and television business from its U.K. newspaper business, which has been embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal for the last year, as well as its other publishing units.
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News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox studios, its Fox networks in the U.S., and its stake in U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB would form a film and media unit. Book publisher HarperCollins, which is embroiled in multiple lawsuits of its own over alleged price collusion between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and book publishers, would join newspaper titles including the Sun in the U.K. and the Wall Street Journal.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp., said he was "100 percent committed to the future of both the publishing and media and entertainment businesses," adding that he would serve as chairman of both companies after the split. However, Murdoch would not be chief executive of the new publishing arm, he said.
The move to distance himself from the corporation's U.K. newspapers follows pressure from shareholders and British politicians following an inquiry into the practices at the now defunct News of the World tabloid, which was shut down shortly after it began making headlines for having hacked the voicemail of a missing girl who was later found dead. More corrupt practices were later uncovered that resulted in Rupert Murdoch and his son James being questioned.
Altogether, News Corp.'s publishing unit brings in $8.8 billion in annual revenues, a figure that is dwarfed by its film and television businesses, which together generated $23.5 billion in revenues in the year to June 2011.
Murdoch said the split would "unlock even greater long-term shareholder value."
Under the plan, current News Corp. investors will be given one share of each of the new entities in exchange for each old News Corp. share.
While the plan is still subject to shareholder approval, Murdoch and his family hold just under 40 percent of News Corp. shares, and aren't expected to have much difficulty in winning the support of an additional 10 percent of shareholders needed to push through the split.
The company will also have to clear regulatory hurdles, including a formal filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
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