After 127 years under the ownership of a non-profit, big changes are coming to National Geographic: The magazines, websites and other media assets are being shifted to a new company majority owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, with the non-profit National Geographic Society keeping a 27% stake in the new business.
National Geographic TV channels, which were already owned and operated by a joint-venture partnership between 21st Century Fox and the National Geographic Society, will also be shifted to the new venture.
21st Century Fox is paying $725 million to the National Geographic Society for the deal, meaning the non-profit will be sitting on an endowment of almost $1 billion once the transaction is completed.
In return, the National Geographic Society will hand over the bulk of its assets to a new joint-venture company, National Geographic Partners, that will be 73% owned by 21st Century Fox. Those assets, according to a statement, include "National Geographic magazines; National Geographic Studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children's media; and ancillary activities, including travel, location-based entertainment, archival sales, catalog, licensing and ecommerce businesses."
National Geographic Partners will be governed jointly by 21st Century Fox and the National Geographic Society, with each having equal representation on its board. The chair of the board will alternate annually, with National Geographic Society CEO Gary Knell set to be the first chairman.
The National Geographic Society said the deal will let the foundation invest more money in sponsoring explorers and scientists. "The value generated by this transaction, including the consistent and attractive revenue stream that National Geographic Partners will deliver, ensures that we will have greater resources for this work, which includes our grant making programs," said CEO Gary Knell, in a statement.
The first edition of National Geographic was published in 1888, the same year that the National Geographic Society was founded. An note in the first issue said the publication would help spread the research of others, "so that we may all know more of the world upon which we live."
But things have changed since 1888, and the Society said Wednesday that selling its publications to 21st Century Fox, which has partnered with the non-profit in owning and operating its television channels for almost 20 years, was the best bet for survival in the modern media market.
"As media organizations work to meet the increasing demand for high quality storytelling across multiple platforms, it's clear that the opportunity to grow by more closely aligning our branded content and licensing assets is the right path," Knell said. "The Society's work will be the engine that feeds our content creation efforts, enabling us to share that work with even larger audiences and achieve more impact. It's a virtuous cycle."
National Geographic TV channels were previously owned by a joint venture between 21st Century Fox and the National Geographic Society, and will be transferred to the new National Geographic Partners as part of Wednesday's deal. An earlier version of this article said they were previously owned by the National Geographic Society.