Inside the ‘Murdoch Makeover’ of National Geographic

By Mark Joyella 

Last year, the National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox announced a $725 million deal that put the Murdoch family–which had been majority shareholders in NatGeo’s cable channels–in full control of a new company, National Geographic Partners, which includes the 127-year-old National Geographic magazine, its digital and social platforms, maps, travel, and other media.

At the time, National Geographic’s chief media officer, Declan Moore, said of 21st Century Fox, “they’re not in the business of meddling … they’ve got great respect for the [National Geographic] brand.”

But in 2013, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, a fight had broken out over Killing Kennedy, a movie based on the book by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. “A certain faction already concerned that the channel was becoming overly Foxified objected to the show because of the O’Reilly connection.”

The film aired–and delivered successful ratings–but at the time of the 2015 deal, some wondered whether NatGeo would ultimately become the victim of meddling–losing its scientific heritage in a bid for splashy–and ratings-friendly–content:

“For years a culture clash had been brewing within the cloistered, sober halls of the National Geographic Society, a social club-turned-nonprofit organization founded in Washington in 1888 and devoted to the mission of increasing and diffusing geographic knowledge. Some NGS executives were irritated by the reality-TV shows that had come to dominate the network, which was majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The worry was that the lowbrow shows were damaging the society’s credibility and upstanding reputation.”

Instead of driving NatGeo toward tabloid fare, Bloomberg reports the TV network has had “a radical makeover in the opposite direction,” with millions of dollars invested in highbrow entertainment. “A kind of HBO for science and adventure programming.”