Why DirecTV's CEO wants to be Murdoch's sidekick at News Corp.

Why would anyone running his own company jump ship to take a dead-end No. 2 job at a smaller shop? That's the mystery surrounding Chase Carey's imminent move from DirecTV (DTV), where he's been CEO since 2003, to News Corp. (NWS), where, according to The Wrap, he's expected to take over from outbound vice chairman Peter Chernin, who's leaving this month.

In plenty of ways, of course, Chernin's job is a big fat plum. For years, he's had a surprisingly free hand to run the entertainment side of News Corp. as he's seen fit, leaving his boss, Rupert Murdoch, free to obsess over the parts of the business that he really cares about (most recently, The Wall Street Journal). "By many measures Peter Chernin is Hollywood's most powerful man," Forbes noted last year.
But this plum has a particularly large and gnarly pit: the succession issue. Chernin, by most accounts, left News Corp. because in the end he finally accepted that his dream of becoming chairman was never going to materialize. Murdoch, who's a fit and healthy 78, has always envisioned passing his title onto one of his children. With Lachlan, his eldest, currently off on his own in Australia, that leaves younger brother James as the favorite candidate. At 36, James is reckoned bright and capable but lacking the seasoning of a Chernin. What's needed is a reliable graybeard (or, in this case, gray mustache) to play lord regent to the callow prince.

Enter Carey. The Wrap says he was by far Murdoch's preferred candidate for the vice-chairman job, to the point that, when it appeared early on that he wasn't available, it was bruited about that Chernin's job would go unfilled. (It's still not clear that he is available; his contract with DirecTV runs through the end of the year, and getting him out of it looks to be the final hurdle.) He's a Murdoch man through and through, having run Fox Television for six years and served, alongside Chernin, as co-COO of Fox Entertainment for another four. (He even seems to share Chernin's politics, juding from his campaign donations: Both men are Democrats, unlike Murdoch.)

So personal affinity is surely a factor; Murdoch, for all he's demonized as the "genocidal tyrant," is, in fact, known for inspiring devotion among underlings. Then, too, while DirecTV has a larger market cap than News Corp. for the moment, the latter is by far the more diverse and glamorous company.

And if that's not enough to seal the deal, there's always cash. Carey earned $6.2 million last year, while Chernin took home a sweet $28.8 million -- $1.3 million more than his boss. Loyalty has its price.
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