21st Century Fox (US)

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Fox served for several years as an umbrella brand for the entertainment assets of what was until recently Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Following the spin-off of its publishing operations, those Fox businesses now form the core of the renamed 21st Century Fox group. Cornerstones are movie studio Twentieth Century Fox and the Fox TV broadcast network, which has risen steadily in the ratings from rank outsider to one of the top networks. At the same time, the Fox News cable channel has established a position as the most watched news broadcaster in the US. The business has also dabbled heavily, but not always happily, in interactive media through the acquisition or development of destinations sites including the social networking portal MySpace and online video service Hulu, now jointly owned by Fox, Disney, Time Warner and Comcast. For several years between 1999 and 2005, Fox was a self-contained and separately quoted division of News Corp. It was later absorbed back into the larger group, before being re-established as a standalone business from July 2013. The new 21st Century Fox also controls most of the old group's international satellite broadcasting interests including its holding in Sky in Europe.

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Brands

Fox Movies Fox News
Fox Searchlight Fox Sports Net
Fox Home Entertainment FX
National Geographic TV The Speed Channel
Hulu.com MyNetworkTV

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Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd May 2017: Fox News' controversial founder and former CEO Roger Ailes has died, aged 77. A haemophiliac since childhood, he had suffered failing health in recent months and was hospitalised earlier this month after a fall. His passing comes just under a year after he was ousted from the channel over multiple allegations of sexual harassment. For all his many faults, Ailes was a larger than-life-character who transformed the nature of cable news broadcasting in the late 1990s and 2000s just as significantly as CNN had done in the previous two decades. Launched in 1996, Fox News took just six years to overturn CNN's long-established lead in news, and for the past several years it has been one of the world's most profitable cable channels.

Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd May 2017: News of Ailes' death was followed by more negative headlines for Fox News. Just a month after the firing of Bill O'Reilly for harassment, another presenter - Bob Beckel, co-host of The Five panel show - has been sacked for making a racially insensitive remark about an African-American employee. The channel is also currently facing a class action suit over racial discrimination which may have contributed to the resignation of co-president Bill Shine two weeks ago. The stream of negative headlines since last year has also weighed on Fox News' ratings. Having traditionally reigned above its rivals in viewing figures, Fox News slumped to 3rd place in the primetime segment this week among the 25-54 age group, behind MSNBC and CNN. Several commentators blamed the fall on the channel's reluctance to give prominence to a string of negative developments concerning President Trump. Fox News is generally seen to be Trump's most loyal supporter. Fox News remains the #1 news channel among all-day total viewers.

Adbrands Weekly Update 11th May 2017: Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the biggest owner of local TV stations in the US, and the leading Fox affiliate, is to get even bigger with a deal to acquire rival Tribune Media for $3.9bn. The deal could extend Sinclair's portfolio to 68 Fox stations, though it also has affiliations to the other three networks as well. Further consolidation is expected after the FCC eased limits on national coverage. No owner is allowed to reach more than 39% of the total US TV audience, but stations broadcasting on UHF frequencies now get a partial discount. Sinclair currently has 173 stations in 81 markets, and reaches a total 24% of US TV homes. Tribune has 42 stations mainly in larger urban markets, and reaches 26%. With the UHF discount applied, their combined coverage is around 42%, so Sinclair is expected to sell several of its smaller existing properties to come in under the 39% cap.

Adbrands Weekly Update 4th May 2017: There was further upheaval at Fox News with the abrupt resignation of co-president Bill Shine, who has worked at the channel since its launch 20 years ago. Though not directly linked to any of the accusations levelled at former chairman Roger Ailes and former anchor Bill O'Reilly, Shine's name has surfaced repeatedly in these complaints for helping to foster a hard-charging (white) male-dominated environment where sexual or racial harassment were allowed to exist. He is also said to have ignored complaints when they were brought to his attention. Current co-president Jack Abernethy will remain in that role, overseeing business operations, and will be joined by Suzanne Scott, promoted to president, programming; and Jay Wallace, who becomes president, news. Scott is the first woman in so senior a role, but she too has been named in filed complaints of helping to conceal, inadvertently or otherwise, the bad behaviour of Ailes and O'Reilly. Both Shine and Scott strongly deny any wrongdoing, as do Ailes and O'Reilly.

Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Apr 2017: As soon as one fire is extinguished at Fox News, another breaks out. A week after the termination of host Bill O'Reilly over allegations of sexual harassment, a class-action lawsuit has been filed by eleven past and present black employees, including current presenter Kelly Wright, accusing the channel of "abhorrent, intolerable, unlawful and hostile racial discrimination". Most of the allegations centre around a senior female manager in the finance department who is said to have engaged in racist behaviour. That employee was finally dismissed in February, but the new suit accuses Fox News of ignoring multiple earlier complaints from different staff members. According to the suit, complainants were told at the time that "nothing could be done" about the manager in question because she "knew too much" about other senior executives at the channel.

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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Rupert Murdoch acquired Twentieth Century Fox in 1985, exactly 50 years after it was first created by the merger of Darryl F Zanuck's independent production company Twentieth Century Pictures with Fox Film Corporation, one of the early pioneers of the industry. Hungarian immigrant William Fox had been one of the first independent filmmakers in the United States. He first set up his company in 1909 to oppose the monopoly held by Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company on film manufacturing and distribution. Officially an "outlaw", he defied the MPPC with a string of sensational melodramas starring sexy "vamp" star Theda Bara as well as crowd-pleasing cowboy pictures with Tom Mix. Fox also built a chain of lavishly decorated movie theatres across the country. When sound arrived in the early 1930s, Fox invested heavily in the new equipment, but was side-swiped by the depression and was forced to sell off his production business in order to hold on to the cinemas. 

At around the same time, Darryl Zanuck, the ambitious young head of production at Warner Brothers, resigned over a salary dispute. Determined to write his own paychecks in future, he formed independent production company Twentieth Century Pictures, agreeing a deal with well-established United Artists to distribute his movies. However the UA deal quickly soured, and Zanuck was forced to find a new partner. In 1935 he agreed to merge his fledgling business with ailing Fox Film to form Twentieth Century Fox, poaching UA's Joseph Schenk to become chairman. (Despite the sale of Fox Studios, William Fox was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1936, but later tried to bribe a judge and was jailed for a year in 1942. He died in 1952).

Zanuck remained the figurehead for Twentieth Century Fox for almost four decades. Although he could be as tyrannical and mercurial as any of his peers, he was arguably one of the most creative of the studio heads, interfering incessantly with scripts (as well as with his roster of eager young starlets) but rarely intruding in the actual film-making process. As a result, Fox quickly became known as the directors' studio, a comparatively hassle-free home for "auteurs" such as Ernst Lubitsch, John Ford, Elia Kazan and Joseph Mankiewicz. Virtually the only gentile studio boss in Hollywood, Zanuck also tended to steer clear of the sentimental fantasies produced by other studios. Instead he broke new ground, daring to tackle more controversial social issues such as dustbowl poverty (memorably in The Grapes of Wrath, which author John Steinbeck described as even harsher than his original novel), anti-Semitism (Gentleman's Agreement), racism (Pinky) and mental illness (The Snake Pit). 

At the same time, he kept audiences happy with a string of box-office female stars including Shirley Temple during the 1930s, Betty Grable in the 1940s, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield in 1950s. In a bid to ward off the threat from television during that decade, Zanuck invented big budget historical spectacle with The Robe, the first movie filmed in Cinemascope. But the march of television was relentless and Zanuck stunned the industry when he bailed out from Fox in 1956 and moved to Europe to become an independent producer.

Initially the studio continued to prosper, turning its attention to big budget musicals, and scoring hits with adaptations of stage triumphs The King and I and South Pacific. But in the early 1960s, disaster struck when two more expensive musicals, Star! and Hello Dolly both failed at the box office. At the same time the studio was struggling desperately to contain disastrous cost overruns on the production of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Meanwhile former boss Zanuck was riding high on the success of his independently produced D Day epic The Longest Day, and in 1963 he was begged by Twentieth Century Fox's board to take back control of the studio. He agreed, installing son Richard Zanuck as head of production. Their first project was another musical, a highly unpromising tale of a nun who becomes surrogate mother to an Austrian family at the outset of World War II. But The Sound Of Music turned out to be a box office smash, earning five Oscars and ending up as the most successful movie since Gone With The Wind almost 30 years before.

That was to be Darryl Zanuck's swansong. There were no follow-ups to the success of The Sound Of Music and the studio struggled through the second half of the decade. After another mammoth flop in 1968 with Doctor Doolittle, the Fox board made Zanuck Jr acting president of the studio, but the infighting between father and son grew unmanageable, and in 1971 both Zanucks were forced out. Twentieth Century Fox drifted along for a few years but then got a new lease of life in 1977 when it agreed to finance production of another very unpromising-sounding movie, a science fiction adventure set in "a galaxy far far away". Not even director George Lucas had anticipated just how enormously successful Star Wars would be, quickly becoming the most successful film of all time. 

With the movie industry now regarded as a hot investment, Fox was acquired in 1981 by oil tycoon Marvin Davis for $722m. He played with the business for four years before selling it on to Rupert Murdoch at a loss for $575m. For Murdoch it was to be the platform for a new entertainment business which would run alongside his newspaper interests in America, acquired a few years earlier. In 1986 he established a television arm with the purchase of six stations from Metromedia. A decade later he established cable news channel Fox News to rival the then all-powerful CNN, followed by a family strand one year later with the acquisition of Pat Robertson's International Family Entertainment. That company's Family Channel was promptly rebranded as Fox Family Worldwide, becoming the springboard for the rollout of the Fox Kids cable and satellite channels. A sports channel was launched the same year, initially as a joint venture with Liberty Media Group. (Fox bought out Liberty in 1999 and rebranded the channel as Fox Sports Net). In order to bolster the output of his sports channels, News Corp acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998. Fox scored that year with the movie Titanic which beat the odds to become the highest-grossing film of all time. Buoyed by that movie's success, News Corp floated off a 19% stake in Fox Entertainment, generating $2.8bn of cash, then one of the largest ever US corporate offerings. (Those shares were bought back in 2005 for around $6.2bn in News Corp stock).

In 2001 the group began shuffling its pack of broadcast interests, grouping them as Fox Cable Networks, while also acquiring a pack of additional television stations across the US from Chris-Craft. At the same time, the company's partner in Fox Family Worldwide, TV entrepreneur Haim Saban, exercised his option to force News Corp to buy his 49% stake in the business. Unwilling to take full ownership, News Corp began looking for a buyer for the whole business. It was subsequently sold to Walt Disney's ABC division in 2001. In 2003, after what had been literally years of on-off negotiations with General Motors, News Corporation agreed a deal to purchase the controlling stake in Hughes Corporation. News Corp transferred its ownership of Hughes into Fox Entertainment Group.

In 2004, Fox's 169 US television stations were each fined $7,000 by the FCC for airing an episode of reality TV show Married In America in which topless couples sprayed whipped cream on each other, before the 10pm watershed. The combined fine totaled almost $1.2m, a new record for indecency penalties against television broadcasters, more than double that handed to CBS for the infamous incident in which Janet Jackson exposed a breast during the 2004 Super Bowl. See full profile for current activities


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