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James Murdoch, Uday Shankar launch media firm with $1.5 billion QIA investment

Media moguls James Murdoch and Uday Shankar are raising their profiles by forming a new company, Bodhi Tree, backed by a $1.5 billion investment from Qatar Investment Authority.

Rupert Murdoch’s younger son and Shankar announced the new venture Wednesday.

In a statement, the pair said that Bodhi Tree would be “designed to invest in media and consumer technology opportunities in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on India.”

After 23 years with his father’s company, James Murdoch struck out on his own. In March 2019, when Walt Disney Co. consolidated much of 21st Century Fox — which Murdoch had been running as CEO — he was displaced.

Rupert Murdoch, 90, turned over his remaining TV assets, including Fox News Channel, to his oldest son, Lachlan, who shares his father’s more conservative views.

Since then, James Murdoch has been making smaller investments, largely through his private holding company, Lupa Systems, which has offices in New York and Mumbai.

Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn, have also made political and charitable donations, including to environmental causes. In 2020, he formalized the break from his famous family when he stepped down from the board of publishing firm News Corp., saying his resignation was “due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets” and other strategic decisions.

That decision brought into the open family fissures — over succession and the politics of Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets — that had been simmering behind the scenes for years.

Last year, James Murdoch signaled his ambitions to once again be a bigger force in media.

The 49-year-old scion has a formidable partner in Shankar, a former underling at Fox. Shankar, who was the architect of Fox’s prominent television service, Star India, is widely respected in India.

Disney picked up Star India, and Shankar, as part of its Fox acquisition. But Shankar departed Disney at the end of 2020, expressing an interest in returning to his entrepreneurial roots. When he left, Shankar was one of the company’s highest-ranking executives, serving as president of Walt Disney Co. Asia Pacific for nearly two years.

Murdoch and Shankar have been collaborating since early last year.

On Wednesday, the pair said their plan was to “provide disruptive solutions that drive transformational outcomes” in such sectors as media, education and healthcare.

“We are very pleased to announce Bodhi Tree,” Murdoch and Shankar said in a joint statement. “Opportunities abound to scale exciting businesses in India and the broader Southeast Asia region. Our continued focus on investing and building relationships in these regions comes from our deep conviction in the long-term growth of these economies and the incredible power of these consumers, as these sectors are transformed by technology.”

The two executives, through a spokeswoman, declined interview requests.

Both will serve as co-chairs of Bodhi Tree.

“QIA is investing in the technology and media space and India is a key market for us,” Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, who runs QIA, said in the statement. “QIA looks forward to backing Bodhi Tree as they drive forward their growth plans in the future.”

Lachlan Murdoch, left, is said to have a closer relationship with father Rupert Murdoch, who entrusted Lachlan with running his slimmed-down media company, Fox Corp. Here the two watched a 2018 match at the USTA National Tennis Center in New York City.

(Adrian Edwards / GC Images)

The move comes several weeks after news reports surfaced that James Murdoch and Shankar were in the process of buying out a significant part of ViacomCBS’ interests in India, the Viacom18 television venture, which owns the popular channel Colors.

Indian daily publication Business Standard reported that Murdoch’s and Shankar’s investment vehicle, Lupa India, was in the final stages of acquiring a 39% stake in Viacom18, which runs TV and digital entertainment channels and has expressed an interest in gaining lucrative sports rights. Viacom18 currently is a joint venture, controlled by Reliance Industries Ltd.

It was unclear Wednesday whether Murdoch and Shankar plan to use the Qatar money to help buy into Viacom18, which also runs Indian Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels. The spokeswoman for Murdoch and Shankar declined to comment on the Viacom18 deal.

ViacomCBS has been shedding assets, including its historic lot in Studio City, to pay down debt and build an arsenal to compete in the streaming wars.



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