Britain’s media landscape is in the midst of a tectonic shift which could cement the rise to dominance of a new force on the right – a hedge fund boss who used to back the Liberal Democrats. Sky and the BBC are both losing network share to GB News as the rightwing broadcaster turns two years old and revamps its digital product. Nigel Farage’s seven o’clock show now attracts more eyeballs per night than Sky News’ leading programmes. At the same time, multiple bidders are circling what could be the last sale of a British broadsheet newspaper for a generation – that of the Telegraph, along with the Spectator. Lord Rothemere’s Daily Mail Group (DMGT) is reportedly holding talks with Middle Eastern investors to support a bid. They include Redbird IMI, a Emirati-backed fund known for its media investments and run by Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of CNN. Paul Marshall, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has previously expressed interest in the Spectator magazine and has the politics and depth of pockets to buy the Telegraph too. He has invested £10 million in GB News and is co-founder of the news website Unherd, whose offices are two doors away from the Spectator’s. Is print his next move? A source close to DMGT’s bid described him as a “credible buyer, without the competition issues”.
Both BBC and Sky News’ daily shares in the 24-hour news market have dropped by nearly a fifth over the past year. GB News’ share of eyeballs increased by nearly half in the same period. Farage’s nightly audience was 96,000 in BARB attributed numbers as of 7 September. Kay Burley’s flagship morning show on Sky had 89,000 by the same measure. The figures give a sense that British media is being remade in ways not dissimilar to the US, where magnates rule. Does Marshall see himself as the next Conrad Black – or the next Murdoch? Both roles could soon be vacant as the Black era recedes in Fleet Street’s rear-view mirror and Murdoch’s vim and vigour are said to be at a low ebb. A senior journalist at the Telegraph spoke favourably of a bid by Marshall, saying he was well-placed to stop the “leftwards drift” of British media. Marshall Wace, his hedge fund, boasts $63 billion of assets under management, and is known for its part in the recent buyout of Warner Bros and for taking a lucrative short position against Natwest earlier this year. (At that time the bank was facing a barrage of criticism from both GB News and the Telegraph because of its decision to refuse Farage a bank account). His son, Winston, played banjo for the band Mumford and Sons and has a podcast with the Spectator called Marshall Matters. Marshall Wace worked with the Dubai-based Legatum Institute in its buyout of Warner Bros, and there’s speculation the same formula could work for the Telegraph. The Telegraph source spoke of discontent among staff at the prospect of a Middle Eastern consortium buying the title. The Barclay family has also sounded out Gulf money in an attempt to buy it back, according to the FT. Other names being gossiped about in connection with the sale include: David Montgomery’s National World group, Belgian publisher Mediahuis, and the Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský.
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