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Rupert Murdoch Rebuffed as Fox Withdraws Bid for Time Warner

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Rupert Murdoch usually gets what he wants, but not this time.

In a rare defeat for a man who has reshaped media the world over, the 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) Chairman and controlling shareholder withdrew his $80 billion stock-and-cash offer on Tuesday to acquire Time Warner (TWX - Get Report), a deal that promised to once again remake the industry.

In a statement, Murdoch said that Fox viewed a merger with its longtime rival as a "unique opportunity to bring together two great companies, each with celebrated content and brands." But the proposed combination, firmly rejected by Time Warner's board and its CEO Jeff Bewkes, was not to be.

"Time Warner management and its Board refused to engage with us to explore an offer which was highly compelling," Murdoch added in the statement.


Murdoch coveted Time Warner both for its extensive sports contracts, a lineup of profitable cable-TV channels and the very successful HBO, a property that Fox envisioned as a platform to challenge Netflix's (NFLX) domination in over-the-top content streaming.

Time Warner shares, which surged 18% on July 16 following news of Murdoch's unsolicited $85 per share offer, were tumbling in after-market trading, falling 9.3% after closing on Tuesday at $85.19. Rebuffed,
Murdoch's board chose instead to authorize a $6 billion share repurchase plan, to be spent within the next 12 months, helping send Fox shares soaring 8% in after-hours trading after closing at $31.30. 

The decision to buy back shares rather than spend billions to engineer a massive merger was made in part to calm restive shareholders, unhappy that Fox had declined 4% since July 15 compared to the S&P 500 Index (^GSPC) which has lost 2.5% during that time span.

The original bid proposal had been in the works since June became public just a week after executives from most of the country's largest media and technology companies gathered for Allen & Co.'s Sun Valley conference, an annual event that has historically cemented larger industry mergers and acquisitions.

But Bewkes ultimately prevailed, arguing in a video made public on YouTube that the company would be better off not combining with Time Warner. 

"Time Warner has unique and powerful brands and leading businesses that are the envy of our competitors so it's not surprising that we might attract attention from others," Bewkes said at the time, insisting that it not in its best interest of the company to "pursue any discussions with Fox."

Fox, which is controlled by the Murdoch family, commands a diverse portfolio of media properties led by its Fox Networks and Twentieth Century Fox Films, a television station group and international channels throughout Europe and Asia as well as ownership stakes in BSkyB and Star India. Among Time Warner's properties are its film and production studio Warner Bros. Entertainment as well as HBO, the Cartoon Network and CNN, which Fox would potentially be forced to sell to ward off antitrust issues with its Fox News division.

Murdoch's willingness to spend big to acquire Time Warner underscored his eagerness to make good on two of his biggest investments: sports programming and the international expansion of U.S. cable-TV channels.

The potential for consolidation among the largest U.S. pay-TV providers had prompted Murdoch to attempt to acquire more television programming. Fox clearly had its sights set on Time Warner's sports contracts and popular HBO serials, to cite only two of its most popular and coveted assets.

By owning more programming, Fox would have been better able to negotiate with pay-TV heavyweights, in the event that Comcast (CMCSA)CMCSA is able to convince regulators to approve its acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC)TWC, and AT&T does the same in its pursuit of DirecTV (DTV)DTV.

-Written by Leon Lazaroff in New York.

>Contact by Email.

Leon Lazaroff is TheStreet's deputy managing editor.

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