Ah, but what about side effects? What might Murdoch do with his pared-down company? And will Disney, with all its new toys, devote sufficient attention to ABC News?
“What Murdoch would do with Fox News is not clear yet, and we don't know if he would be scaling it up or down,” Gomes-Casseres said. “Whether ABC News will be affected in this way, as a side effect, is also anyone's guess, but there is no doubt that ABC as a TV channel will decrease in importance in the Disney group. . . . I would not look to the Disney-Fox merger to bolster the fourth estate.”
In a background development, the Federal Communications Commission is mulling a possible rule change that would raise or even eliminate a cap on TV station ownership by a single company. Among the assets Murdoch would keep, if the deal with Disney is approved by federal regulators, are 28 local stations. He could potentially grow that number much larger.
Brian Weiser, a senior research analyst for the Pivotal Research Group, told CNN that Murdoch could snap up stations to slow the march of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a would-be challenger in the conservative media market that outbid 21st Century Fox for Tribune Media in May. That deal would bring Sinclair's station total to 215.
More recently, multiple news outlets, including the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, have reported that Murdoch is interested in forming a joint venture with Ion Media Networks that would own a combined 88 local stations.
Yet Jonathan Taplin, a former vice president of media mergers and acquisitions at Merrill Lynch, told me that, in his view, the sale of 21st Century Fox's entertainment brands “shows that Murdoch has soured on the whole media business.”
“He will probably continue to milk the cash cow that is Fox News but not make new investments,” Taplin said.
After selling the Fox television studios that produce scripted shows, one change Murdoch could make to Fox broadcasting — without investing in new stations — would be to put some Fox News programming on network TV.
“Fox, unlike the other three big networks, does not have a network newscast,” noted Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute.
Edmonds's expectation, however, is that Fox broadcasting and Fox News will remain distinct entities.
“I don't see a really strong case for [integration],” Edmonds said. “Fox News has its identity. The people who want it, find it.”
On the Disney side, “implementing this large a merger — with tens of thousands of employees involved — can be a drain on top management's attention,” said Melissa Graebner, a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist at the University of Texas. “It's hard to keep all of the balls in the air.”
She added: “There is also the issue that Disney has publicly announced they expect $2 billion in cost savings, and top management will likely feel a lot of pressure to meet that number. Oftentimes those estimates are done in a very rough, top-down way, and meeting those targets is not so easy, after the fact. One possibility is that ABC News could be lost in the shuffle, with top management's attention diverted to the merger.”
Here's a more optimistic possibility, from a journalism perspective: ABC News becomes a major attraction of Disney's planned streaming video services or, perhaps, Hulu, in which Disney will own a majority stake.
Disney chief executive Bob Iger “wants to be one of the big three streaming aggregators,” Taplin said. “Netflix and Amazon are probably the other two. I would think he would integrate ABC News into his streaming platform as a way to differentiate from his competitors.”