Rupert Murdoch’s 20-year pursuit of the Chinese television market and its 1.3 billion sets of eyeballs is effectively over.
21st Century Fox Group, the vehicle housing Murdoch’s fast-growing, global film studios and television businesses (last June these were separated from his older publishing businesses, which are housed in the new News Corp) announced this morning that it had sold its remaining 47% stake in Star China TV, the owner of three 24-hour Mandarin language channels and a Chinese film library.
It caps off a remarkable turn of events for Murdoch, who the New York Times described in 2007 as “the Chinese leadership’s favorite foreign media baron” who had exhibited an “ardent” and “unrelenting” approach to business in the Middle Kingdom.
What happened? The truth is that Murdoch has been encountering difficulties in China ever since he set foot in the country. Shortly after he bought Star TV for $1 billion in 1993, the mogul delivered a provocative speech in London that upset the Chinese government. He said that satellite TV represented an “unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes,” by making it easier for “information-hungry residents” in closed societies to get around state-censored TV.
But the fast-growing market’s allure proved irresistable, and Murdoch persisted. But in 2005, he said his business in China had “hit a brick wall” after the government surprisingly tightened restrictions on foreign media companies seeking to do business there. By 2010, he had started selling out of Star China, refocusing his ambitions on the equally massive but much more agreeable Indian television market.
The real clincher for Murdoch’s China exit might be more personal: his recent divorce from Wendi Deng, the Jinan-born Yale graduate who he married in 1999. Deng and Murdoch met in 1997, when she was plucked from Hong Kong to act as a translator to aid in the billionaire’s Chinese ambitions. At the time, she was working for Star TV.
Deng is expected to get the couple’s 2,000 square-meter Beijing residence as part of the divorce settlement. It may be that Murdoch’s latest move is yet another example of how the rich and famous—as the gossip magazines put it—are just like us: They take great pains to erase all memories of an ex after a messy breakup.