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Resurgent News Corp hungry for acquisitions

21 Nov 2012 THE AGE - AMY CHOZICK



NEWS Corporation is starting to look like its old self again.

The media conglomerate, which had been on its heels for more than a year because of a phone hacking scandal in Britain, is looking to make acquisitions. First on the list could be a 49 per cent stake in the Yes Network in New York, a purchase that could aid in the formation of a nationwide sports network to compete with ESPN.

News Corp's stock has reached highs as the company prepares to transfer its underperforming publishing assets, including newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, into a separate publicly traded entity.

One of the crucial factors in the decision was that the split would allow Rupert Murdoch, the company's chairman and chief executive, to buy into the businesses he loves without upsetting investors who are more interested in cable and broadcast. Potential targets include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and more education companies.

"Rupert has his mojo back," said Todd Juenger, a media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. "The stock is up, investors are happy with the company's recent decisions."

In the past several weeks, Mr Murdoch has exuded a satisfaction and sure-footedness that people close to the company said they had not seen since before News' British newspaper unit became embroiled in the phone hacking scandal. That is in part because hacking has been overtaken in the press by an unfolding scandal at the BBC.

The BBC, which Mr Murdoch and his son James have frequently criticised, is accused of cancelling a news program's segment about child molesting said to have been committed by long-time host Jimmy Savile, and broadcasting false reports of paedophilia about a member of Margaret Thatcher's administration.

As News Corp sank into its hacking scandal last year, it delayed new acquisitions. In September, Britain's Office of Communications, known as Ofcom, said that BSkyB, 39.1 per cent owned by News Corp, was "fit and proper" to hold a broadcast licence. The decision removed a cloud of uncertainty at News Corp's Manhattan headquarters and cleared the company to revisit deals, analysts said.

Dropping its $12 billion bid for the portion of BSkyB that it did not already own gave News Corp ample cash to complete share buybacks and consider other acquisitions.