Updated: News Corporation (NYSE: NWS) today confirmed that it has reached an agreement to buy a 9.09 percent stake in Rotana Group, the pan-Middle East media group. News Corporation is acquiring newly-issued shares in Rotana for $70 million and has an option to increase its stake to 18.18 percent in the 18 months following completion.
Original post: The News Corp media empire may be just about to get bigger. The company is close to buying a 10 percent stake in Rotana Media, a pan-Middle East broadcast and music group, with an option to increase this to 20 percent, according to a report in the Financial Times.
The deal, which has been reportedly in the works since September last year, may be announced as early as today. The value of the stake is unknown at this point.
This would not be the first connection between News Corp and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the multi-billionaire Saudi owner of Rotana Media. The prince is already a seven percent shareholder of News Corp’s class B stock. As the FT points out, this makes him the largest single shareholder outside of Murdoch family members. The prince’s current stake does not give him a place on News Corp’s board. Al-Waleed also already has a deal to syndicate some of News Corp’s Fox content in the region.
Rotana is already active online and looks like it is laying the groundwork for even more services…
– The company’s main portal, still in beta, links into several services already. There are live streams of its seven middle-eastern broadcast channels and four radio stations.
– There is a Hulu-like, on-demand film and TV streaming service called Shofha, with navigation both in Arabic and English.
– And there is a music streaming service with hits from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Emirates, Kuwait and Syria. Rotana also features a middle-eastern celeb and entertainment news service, although this seems less developed than the other parts of the site at this point.
The deal would is also reported to include a stake in satellite assets: the prince has an 85 percent share of LBCSAT, the free-to-air satellite broadcasting channel started by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation in 1996. Al-Waleed’s purchase of LBCSAT also included a corresponding stake in the production house the Production and Acquisition Company.
A move into the Middle East would fit into Murdoch’s wider strategy of tapping into developing economies to leverage his holdings in more established markets. The biggest of these has been in Asia, where News Corp owns satellite broadcaster Star. Last August News Corp split the assets of this group into three separate operations, Star India, Star Greater China and Fox International Channels, with the latter overseeing the English-language channels in the region.
But other new-market forays have been a mixed bag for News Corp. The company has reportedly been interested in selling its stakes in Russian radio stations. When News Corp’s Russian outdoor advertising businesses’ offices were raided in connection with a corruption probe in 2008, Rupert Murdoch reportedly said: