Elisabeth Murdoch’s Next Frontier

In returning to the media colossus that controls the U.S.’s No. 2 broadcast network and one of the most successful cable entertainment outlets, 42-year-old Elisabeth Murdoch—whose company Shine was acquired last week by order of the colossus’ chairman, her father—has set a place for herself at the table with the likes of über-producers Mark Burnett and Thom Beers. Indeed, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, who grew up in New York but has lived in London most of her adult life, is now poised to be one of the most powerful people in the U.S. television business.

It took almost $700 million for Rupert Murdoch to achieve his goal of bringing his daughter back into the fold. Now that she’s there, Elisabeth Murdoch has the financial and business muscle of News Corp. behind her—and a father who wants to keep his daughter happy—in case she decides to ramp up the acquisition spree that has made Shine the emerging power that it is. And she has the opportunity to take real power at News Corp. That is, if she wants it.

Observers expect that the latest incarnation of Shine will continue to exploit its established European business, while looking to make further inroads into Asian markets. Yet as the global entertainment capital—pop culture is arguably our biggest export—the U.S. may well be the jewel in the crown. Fiercely ambitious and with a keen eye for talent, Elisabeth Murdoch surely wants to make her mark here.

“She’s an insider’s outsider,” said one studio suit. “She’s not nearly as familiar a figure as are the L.A. guys, who you run into 100 times a year. But at the same time, she’s a Murdoch. If she wants something bad enough, she’s going to get it.”

In a sense, the act of accepting a voting position on News Corp.’s board of directors necessarily turns her gaze to the new world and its massive television market. Part of this is a purely practical matter: Thanks to British media law, Shine will need to turn away from Murdoch’s adopted home and the familiar fold of BBC and Channel 4, its traditional outlets, and look to the U.S. for opportunities to grow bigger and bolder. (The major broadcasters are required to invest 25 percent of their programming budgets with independent studios and, since the sale, Shine is no longer independent.)

Of course, Elisabeth Murdoch and Shine had been extending their reach into the U.S. well before the News Corp. deal. Thanks in large part to its $125 million acquisition of Ben Silverman’s Reveille Productions in February 2008, Shine is now one of the fastest-growing production shops in the U.K., and probably in the world. Indeed, Reveille—launched by Silverman in 2002, with the backing of Barry Diller—remains Shine’s major division.

The studio has generated a roster of hits that includes scripted series (The Office, Ugly Betty, The Tudors), as well as reality shows, the most enduring of which is NBC’s The Biggest Loser.

There’s no underestimating the impact the Reveille pickup has had on Shine’s distribution efforts. And now, with the company having already exported a host of shows to European and Asian markets, this new deal opens a direct pipeline between Shine’s Camden Town offices and the States.

Coming to America

While the official word from News Corp. arrived in the form of an almost comically terse press release—Murdoch père merely noted that the Shine team “has built a significant production company in major markets in very few years”—network executives, perhaps playing down the implicit and obvious power and advantages of their new colleague, suggest there won’t be an immediate surge of Shine-developed fare popping up on Fox.

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