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Fox Corporation is the new name for what is left of 21st Century Fox, following the sale of the 20th Century Fox movie studio and other assets to Disney and of satellite broadcaster Sky to Comcast. Fox had already served for several years as an umbrella brand for the entertainment operations of what was previously Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Following the spin-off of its publishing operations in 2013, those Fox businesses became the core of the renamed 21st Century Fox group. It cornerstones were 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 US networks. At the same time, the Fox News cable channel established a position as America's most watched news broadcaster, and more recently has become the biggest media industry cheerleader for President Trump. The group 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. After years, decades even, as a voracious acquirer of other businesses, Fox reversed its strategy at the end of 2017, accepting an offer to itself be acquired by Disney. The bulk of Fox's film and entertainment assets transferred to Disney in 2019, while Sky was acquired by Comcast. The slimmed down Fox Corporation now comprises only its US broadcast network, and cable strands Fox News and Fox Sports 1.
Who handles Fox's advertising? Click here for agency account assignments from adbrands.net. The group declared advertising expenses of $2.4bn in fiscal 2016. AdAge estimated global measured media expenditure of $1.19bn in 2014. In the US, Kantar (in Advertising Age) reported measured expenditure of $670m for 2015, out of an estimated total of $1.63bn. Highest spending brands were 20th Century Fox movies (measured media $403m), Fox network TV ($113m) and Fox Searchlight ($62m).
see Media Sector Index for competitive companies
The newspaper and Australian entertainment assets of the old News Corporation group were spun off at the end of June 2013 as a separate company, taking with them the News Corporation name. The original group then changed its name to 21st Century Fox.
In December 2017, the group accepted a takeover offer from Walt Disney worth a final total of $71bn. Disney acquired all of 21st Century Fox. It kept Fox's movie and TV studio, its entertainment-based cable channels including FX and regional sports strands, and its controlling stakes in satellite broadcasters Sky and Star of India. The other units - the Fox broadcast network, Fox News cable channel, Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Big Ten Network - were spun out to existing Fox shareholders as a separate quoted entity, Fox Corporation. Fox investors, including the Murdoch clan, also ended up with around 25% of an enlarged Disney. The deal completed in March 2019.
The Fox brand operates across several divisions. Filmed Entertainment is built around the 20th Century Fox movie studio, acquired by News Corporation in 1985. The movie operation is split into four units. Fox Movies is the main mass market distributor, supported by niche or "art-house" distributor Fox Searchlight and digital division Twentieth Century Fox Animation, responsible for the Ice Age and Rio franchises and other animated movies. A fourth unit, Fox Faith, was established in 2006 to handle bought-in "family friendly" movies, primarily with a Christian sub-text, in theatres or on video. Between them, the Fox divisions generally release around 25 movies a year.
Performance in this industry tends to bounce backwards and forwards between good years and bad years, but Fox has a reasonably strong track record. A major contributing factor was its long-running partnership with independent producer George Lucas to distribute his Star Wars series. The financial benefits from that relationship were rather less significant, however, than the kudos involved. The largest share of the profits from the Star Wars series went directly to George Lucas, with Fox receiving only a fee for managing distribution. That relationship ended in 2013 with the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney. There is also a historical partnership with James Cameron, with whom the studio worked on both Titanic and Avatar. A similar relationship to co-finance and distribute movies made by DreamWorks SKG ended with that company's acquisition by Paramount in 2005. However, Fox took over distribution rights for DreamWorks Animation at the beginning of 2013 (replacing previous partner Paramount). The group also has a 20% shareholding in production company New Regency Entertainment, whose films and television content it distributes.
In 2014, 20th Century Fox enjoyed its best ever performance, taking the crown as the #1 studio by US box office for the first time in at least 15 years. Its worldwide box office of $5.5bn set a new global record for any Hollywood studio, beating the $5.17bn figure set by Paramount in 2011. (That record didn't last: it was broken a year later by both Universal and Disney). No less than eight films exceeded US box office of $100m, of which two topped $200m. Overall top performer was the latest in the X-Men franchise, Days Of Future Past, which took $748m worldwide, supported by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at $708m. Critical successes for "arthouse" unit Fox Searchlight included The Grand Budapest Hotel and especially Birdman, which took home multiple Oscars including Best Picture. (The previous year's Best Picture Oscar also went to a Fox Searchlight release, 12 Years A Slave).
The following year was somewhat less spectacular. Only one release featured among the global Top Ten movies: The Martian with a worldwide gross of $650m. The Revenant ($533m), Kingsman ($414m) and Home ($386m) made the Top 20, and the latter was also a major critical success, with lead actress Brie Larson collecting multiple best actress awards including the Oscar.
Performance for 2016 was dominated by the largely unexpected success of Deadpool, which managed to achieve a worldwide gross of $783m despite excessive bad language and violence. It was one of the year's top 10 releases globally. X-Men Apocalypse and Kung Fu Panda 3 also did well at $544m and $521m respectively. The latest Ice Age sequel also did well (despite dismal reviews), along with a sequel to one of the studio's past all-time champs, Independence Day. Other all-times champs include Avatar, the Star Wars and Home Alone series, Night of the Museum and X-Men.
A separate unit, Twentieth Century Fox Television, is responsible for production of television content which is either sold to the group's own broadcast business or to other networks. Fox made its name in the 1990s with series such as The X-Files, The Simpsons and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and these as well as newer series Modern Family - a huge global hit - How I Met Your Mother, Glee, 24, King of the Hill, Family Guy and The Practice continue to earn powerful revenues, especially in the international syndication market.
In 2012, the group acquired UK-based production company Shine (founded by Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth Murdoch). This controls rights for global TV franchises including MasterChef and The Biggest Loser. At the end of 2014, Shine merged with rival production company Endemol (owner of Big Brother, Pointless and dramas Peaky Blinders and The Fall) to create Endemol Shine Group. The resulting business is jointly owned by Fox and private equity firm Apollo. Fox also has a small equity stake in alternative news media company Vice.
The Filmed Entertainment division also houses the Fox Home Entertainment DVD and video business, which became one of the group's most profitable units in the mid-2000s (less so now). The Fox library contains more than 3,200 movies and numerous TV series. It also has international distribution rights in several markets to the MGM film library. In France, Fox DVDs are distributed through Fox Pathe Europa, a joint venture with local studios Pathe and Europa.
Combined revenues from Filmed Entertainment were $8.75bn in the year to 2018, with operating income of $952m. This entire division transferred to Walt Disney at the beginning of 2019.
Once regarded as the little cousin of the traditional "big three" US TV networks, Fox Broadcast showed itself to be just as strong if not stronger than older rivals in the 2000s. That decade it enjoyed an almost unbroken run as the top-rated television network among the key demographic of 18-49 year old viewers, and #2 overall. It has established a reputation for tabloid-style, often sensational reality TV content, as well as high-octane, high concept drama. Recurring hits include talent shows American Idol (now coming to the end of its long run) and the X Factor, scripted dramas Sleepy Hollow, The Following, Bones and Glee, comedies Family Guy, The Simpsons and New Girl and reality shows Hell's Kitchen and So You Think You Can Dance. House was a big popular success from 2004 to 2012.
However performance has been slumping more recently. Declining interest in talent shows prompted a slip from the #1 position among 18-49 adults in the 2012/13 season for the first time in years. A continuing slide for American Idol left Fox in the #2 spot overall for 2013/14, tied with CBS, and slipped from #3 to #4 network overall among all viewers, with an average 7.32m audience. American Idol was the only Fox show among the Top 20 by total average viewers across the season. Its top scripted dramas were Sleepy Hollow, Bones, The Following and Almost Human.
Empire was a big hit for the network in 2014/15 with almost 13m average viewers - it was the top-rated new drama series from any network - but Fox finished in last place among the Big Four in both total viewers and, more surprisingly, with 18-49ers. Empire was the only Fox show to top 10m viewers, and only four others - American Idol (9.6m), Gotham (6.1m), Bones (5.4m) and Junior MasterChef (5.1m) - were above 5m. (By contrast, CBS had more than 30 shows above 5m viewers).
Fox recovered the #3 spot among 18-49ers in 2015-16, but was still in bottom place for total viewers. Empire retained its magic for a second year, with an audience rising to 15.7m "Live+7" viewers, supported by the resurrected X-Files at 13.6m. They were followed by sports broadcast The OT at 12.8m viewers, and the final season of American Idol at an average of around 11.3m. No other show made the Top 60 programmes, but Lucifer and Bones were just outside at 7.2m and 6.9m respectively. Fox remains one of the the highest-rated sports networks, with extensive coverage of NFL football, NASCAR racing and Major League Basketball. It carried the 2014 Super Bowl telecast.
In 2018, Fox paid a lavish $3.3bn to secure NFL Thursday Night Football for five years, beating an offer from incumbent rights holders NBC and CBS.
The Fox network broadcasts through 207 affiliates nationwide, including 17 directly owned local stations with a strong position in key urban markets including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It agreed to acquire another seven stations in 2018 from Sinclair Broadcast Group for $910m. A further 10 group-owned stations were, until 2006, affiliates not of the Fox network but of smaller rival UPN, controlled by Viacom. In early 2006, without consulting its affiliates, Viacom said it planned to merge UPN with Time Warner's The WB to form a new network, The CW. This threatened to leave Fox's UPN affiliates, as well as another 200 or so other stations around the country, with no prime time network content unless they signed a new contract with The CW. Seizing the opportunity, Fox launched a second-string network of its own, My Network TV. Broadcasting for just two hours each night to around 180 stations nationally, this specialises in soap-opera-style serial dramas, with new episodes airing each night of the week.
Performance of the television group has remained patchy over the past few years, reflecting the rise and fall in advertising revenues. Despite the network's still-mercurial ratings performance, revenues for the year to 2017 rose 11% to $5.65bn, with operating income of $894m. The year's Super Bowl telecast was the major contributor to the increase. For the year to 2018, revenues slumped 9% to $5.2bn, while earning plunged by 60% to $362m.
The main network is partnered by a collection of US cable television channels, which now represent the combined group's single biggest business by some margin. Together they account for more than half of 21st Century Fox revenues and over three-quarters of operating profit.
Fox News, once a rank outsider, is now the nation's top-rated cable news broadcaster, with around 54% news channel audience share (ahead of Time Warner's CNN at 31%). It has held that top spot consistently since 2001, and is the second most-watched cable channel overall by total primetime viewers (behind ESPN), with distribution to some 91m households in the US. The Fox Business channel launched at the end of 2007 against rivals CNBC and Bloomberg, and reaches 79m US households.
At least part of Fox News' success stems from its reputation as the most right-wing and conservative of the major news channels, a stance which strikes a chord with a large audience in middle America. It is also a key cornerstone to the group as a whole, accounting for an estimated 20% of combined group profits. According to market watcher SNL, it earned a profit of around $1.5bn in 2015, nearly four times rival CNN. In early 2016, Fox News became the leading cheerleader for Donald Trump's presidential bid, and it remains his most loyal supporter among mainstream media outlets.
However the channel was also beset during 2016 and early 2017 by a series of controversial personnel crises involving senior executives. The company's founder and figurehead Roger Ailes was forced to resign in July 2016 as a result of a lawsuit brought by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. She claimed that she was fired from the channel after refusing to sleep with him. Ailes denied the allegations but an internal investigation uncovered other allegations of inappropritae behaviour. The network's #2 news anchor Megyn Kelly clashed repeatedly with Trump and his supporters during the run-up to the election, and she accepted an offer to transfer to rival NBC in early 2017, despite a generous contract renewal offer from Fox. A few months later, Fox News' top-rated host Bill O'Reilly was also forced out following further allegations from female staff of verbal and sexual harassment.
The group also owns general entertainment channel FX. This has found itself a new lease of life since 2010 with a series of high quality commissioned drama series. The first breakout hit from FX was arguably American Horror Story, but it was followed with the critically acclaimed Fargo adaptations, spy drama The Americans and above all American Crime Story. The latter's first series: The People vs OJ Simpson was one of the benchmark shows of 2016, earning multiple awards, including six Emmys.
National Geographic TV is a joint venture with the National Geographic Society, via National Geographic Partners, 73%-owned by Fox. A new entertainment, action sports and music channel aimed at 13-24 year-olds launched in the US in 2003 under the Fuel brand, and began rolling out across Europe in 2004. The group also has an interest in The Speed Channel, Sunshine, and other stations.
Sport has been a key focus for the cable group in recent years. In 2006, the group paid Time Warner around $375m for regional cable channel Turner South, which also owns broadcast rights for Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves. That business rebranded under the Fox Sports Net banner. In 2012, News Corp acquired a 49% holding in Yes Network, another regional sports channel that broadcasts games by the New York Yankees baseball team, for around $1.7bn, as well as an option to take majority control in 2015. These regional feeds were consolidated with the launch in August 2013 of a new national sports channel, Fox Sports 1, designed to provide a direct challenge to Disney-owned ESPN. A second channel followed, and the group also owns 51% of college sports channel Big Ten Network. Until recently Fox also owned the LA Dodgers baseball team, but sold this business in 2003 to private investors.
Fox Family Worldwide, previously a joint venture with Saban Entertainment was sold to Disney in 2001. News Corp's Cable Programming division has been the group's strongest performer in recent years.
In ye 2017, despite the multiple controversies which swirled around Fox News during the year, combined revenues from cable programming soared by more than $1bn for the seventh consecutive year, reaching $16.13bn. Operating income rose 9% to $5.60bn. Another huge increase in ye 2018 lifted revenues to $17.95bn, with earnings of almost $6.2bn.
The new Fox Corporation retains ownership of Fox News and Fox Sports but National Geographic, FX and other entertainment-based strands were sold to Disney.
In addition to its US operations, the group has significant broadcast interests in Europe and Asia. Sky is the leading satellite broadcaster across the region. The group owns around 39% of the equity, with the rest publicly held. Until recently, Fox controlled three separate Sky businesses; the main UK company, then known as BSkyB through a 39% holding; and two separate Sky-branded companies in Germany and Italy. In 2010, the group - then known as News Corporation - offered £8.3bn to acquire the outstanding 61% of equity it didn't already own in BSkyB of the UK. The deal was accepted by BSkyB's independent directors, but encountered early opposition from UK regulators already worried about the degree of control Rupert Murdoch had over the British media as a whole because of his newspaper interests. As a result of certain concessions offered by News Corp, the deal came close to being approved in summer 2011, until a mediastorm resulting from the phone hacking scandal at the UK newspaper division forced the group to withdraw its offer.
In July 2014, following the split of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, the group agreed to sell its separate shareholdings in Sky Italia and Sky Germany to the UK company for $7.3bn. However it then paid another $900m to acquire additional shares in the merged group to maintain its holding at 39%. The sale of Italy and Germany caused group revenues from direct broadcast satellite TV to fall by two-thirds to $2.11bn in ye 2015, while operating income almost halved to $234m. There was no direct revenue contribution from this segment in ye 2016 or ye 2017. The 39% shareholding in Sky generated a paper profit of $338m for the year.
At the end of 2016, Fox made a new offer to buy out the Sky shares it doesn't own to take full control of the business, valuing the business at £18.5bn. The proposal was accept by Sky's baord, and was later approved by EU regulators. However, it has yet to be passed by regulator in the UK, where the old concerns and political prejudices regarding the "fitness" of the Murdoch family prompted a new backlash. A decision was delayed by the calling of the General Election in June, and was still under consideration in August. Those plans were evnetually overtaken by the decision to break up the main group. After a bidding battle, Sky was acquired by Comcast.
Separately, Star India is the dominant satellite broadcaster in Asia, beaming more than 60 channels in eight languages to more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries across Asia as well as other countries with a large Asian population. It has an especially strong footprint in the key markets of India, China and Taiwan. The group also has a 30% stake in Tata Sky, a direct broadcasting platform in India. (It sold a 20% stake in another Chinese subsidiary, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix Satellite TV, to China Mobile in 2006). Star India transferred to Disney in 2019.
Not all the group's ventures into satellite broadcasting have been as successful as Sky and Star. ASkyB, Murdoch's first attempt to broadcast by satellite to the US market was a flop, later sold to Echostar. An attempt to crack the Japanese market was equally unsuccessful, and in 2002 the group was forced to write off a substantial investment in failed German broadcasting group Kirch. In 2003, News Corporation agreed a deal to take control of US satellite broadcaster DirecTV after almost three years of negotiations. That business also absorbed various Sky-branded satellite joint ventures in Latin America. However, the holding in DirecTV was divested in 2007, transferred to Liberty Media in exchange for the latter's significant shareholding in News Corporation. As part of that deal News also agreed to pay $550m in cash and surrendered to Liberty three regional US sports networks, also valued at about $550m.
In 2005, News Corp announced plans to ramp its involvement in internet entertainment, forming dedicated unit Fox Interactive Media to take over management of the group's existing online presence, as well as its games software division. This portfolio was strengthened further with a series of acquisitions. Intermix Media (previously eUniverse) was purchased for $580m, and brought with it a network of around 30 online destinations, of which the best-known was social networking portal MySpace. At one point the dominant force in social media, MySpace's performance slumped alarmingly after it was acquired as a result of the astronomical growth of Facebook. As both traffic and advertising revenues tanked, MySpace quickly became more of a burden than an asset to News Corp. It was eventually sold in 2011 to ad targeting firm Specific Media, in partnership with performer Justin Timberlake, for just $35m.
News Corp added other assets to its portfolio in the mid-2000s. It also agreed to pay $650m to buy IGN Entertainment, which operates a variety of videogaming sites including Game Spy and TeamXbox, as well as lifestyle magazine Ask Men. (Movie review portal Rotten Tomatoes, then also part of IGN, was later sold and is now owned by Time Warner). A third acquisition, Scout Media, publishes local sports network Scout.com as well as around 50 regional sports magazines. In Autumn 2006, News Corporation acquired a majority stake in mobile ringtone marketer Jamba/Jamster for around $188m. It acquired the remaining minority shares in 2008, renaming the company Fox Mobile Group. The business was merged with the group's video clip marketing arm Mobizzo, which sells Fox TV clips for mobile broadcasting. The following June the group acquired image-sharing site Photobucket and online editing tool Flektor. The group is said be involved in negotiations with a number of other independent businesses, and has declared interactive entertainment to be among its priority areas for the future. Nevertheless, the group has also moved into other areas as well. One of its other online purchases in 2007 was faith website BeliefNet. In 2010, it paid $360m to acquire digital education publisher Wireless Generation, which uses mobile devices, assessment software and databases to help teachers track students’ performance to tailor instruction to individuals.
In 2006 Fox agreed a lucrative online alliance with Google to supply search results and advertising content. However, Google's subsequent acquisition of video sharing portal YouTube raised concerns among all mediaowners over copyright control. Fox agreed a retrospective licensing arrangement to cover user-uploaded content in early 2007, but a few months later also announced a potentially groundbreaking alliance with NBC Universal to launch their own online video distribution channel. This service, Hulu, launched in 2007, offering a wide range of professionally produced network TV and movie content. Content was initially free, supported by advertising, and the new service quickly established itself as the second biggest online video service behind YouTube. In 2009, Disney's ABC network agreed to become the third content partner in Hulu, acquiring an equal stake for an unspecified sum. Hulu has since developed its own ad-free subscription offering to become a rival to other such "over the top" streaming services, not least Netflix. In 2016, Time Warner was persuaded to join the alliance, acquiring a 10% stake alongside the 30% controlled by each of the three founding partners. Fox's stake in Hulu transferred to Disney in 2019, giving that group overall control of the business.
Although it continued to control virtually all voting rights, the old News Corporation floated around 19% of Fox's shares in 1999 in what was then the biggest ever US IPO. In 2005, the parent group paid around $6.2bn in its own shares to buy back those minority shares. The spin-off of News Corp's publishing businesses in 2013 led to the re-establishment of the Fox name for a quoted company.
For the year to June 2013, excluding any contribution from the divested operations, annual revenues for 21st Century Fox were $27.68bn, up 10% on the previous year's equivalent performance. Net attributable income from continuing operations more than doubled to $6.82bn, although this sum included almost $3.8bn of one-off gains arising from consolidation of previously separate units and from divestments. For the year to June 2014, revenues rose 15% to $31.87bn. Net attributable income, excluding the one-off gains which flattered the previous year's results, fell back to $3.79bn but was still well above prior years.
Results for the year to June 2015 were boosted significantly by the transfer of the satellite broadcast interests in Continental Europe to part-subsidiary Sky UK. The sale caused full year net income to almost double to $8.31bn, although revenues slipped back 9% to $28.99bn. Excluding that $4.2bn gain, operating income from continuing operations was up only marginally.
Revenues for the year to June 2016 dipped to $27.33bn. On a continuing basis, excluding the contributions from divested operations, comparable revenues rose by 1%. At constant exchange rates the increase would have been more like 4%. Net income was $2.76bn. On an operating basis excluding exceptional and other one-off items like the Sky Europe sale and depreciation, OIBDA dipped 2% year on year.
The year to 2017 saw a further rise in revenues to $28.50bn, with attributable net income up 7% to $2.95bn. TV and cable affiliate fees represent the biggest income stream, or $12.17bn. advertising regain second place in ye 2017 with a Super Bowl-enhanced contribution of $8.04bn. Content (including DVD and ticket sales) added $7.71bn. In 2016, the group generated 71% of revenues ($19.4bn) in North America, and just 12% ($3.3bn) in Europe, mainly the UK, Italy and Germany.
For the year to 2018, new tax laws helped net income to soar by 49% to $4.5bn on revenues up 7% to $30.4bn. Pretax income, excluding the one-off gain, was actually down slightly. On a divisional basis, the weakest performance came from Television - the main Fox broadcast network which will form much of a slimmed-down "New Fox" entity - where revenues and operating profit both fell sharply. However Fox News - also to be retained - remains a financial powerhouse. The group didn't break out the respective contributions from Fox News and the other cable asets that are being sold. However combined revenues rose 11% to $17.9bn - over half the group total - while earnings rose 10% to almost 90% of the group total.
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.
Last full revision 19th May 2017
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