Prediction: Murdoch buys NY Daily News

Jeff Bercovici

Jul 13th 2009 at 3:00PM AOL Daily Finance News

Everyone wants to know when Rupert Murdoch is going to make his long-dreamed-about play for The New York Times. Murdoch himself denies he’s plotting anything of the kind — but could he have a different target in mind?

That’s the view of Baldwin, N.Y-based media appraiser Kevin Kamen, who predicts that the News Corp.(NWS) chairman will attempt to buy the New York Daily News by the end of 2009 — and expects him to succeed. “I believe that’s something that’s being looked at very seriously, although very quietly” inside News Corp., Kamen tells Daily Finance. “Obviously, I can’t say it’s definitely happening, but I think it’s being considered by Murdoch for sure. Nobody should be surprised, although everyone will be.”

Kamen bases his prediction on information from confidential sources, but also on various public moves Murdoch has made in recent years — namely, buying the Brooklyn Paper and the TimesLedger and Courier-Life newspaper groups. (The former publishers newspapers in Brooklyn, N.Y. the latter in Queens, N.Y.) Acquiring the Daily News would complete the puzzle, says Kamen. “There’s a strategy there,” he says. “He’s building up the scenery, if you will — the support system.”

There may be a strategy there, but Mort Zuckerman, who owns the News, is under no obligation to go along with it if he doesn’t want to. The real estate mogul calls Kamen’s scenario “total fiction,” adding, “The Daily News is not for sale, has never been for sale, and will not be for sale.” A News Corp. spokeswoman said the company never comments on speculation.

If it’s fiction, however, it’s not terribly far-fetched. Just a year ago, Murdoch and Zuckerman were discussing a possible merger of the Daily News’s business operations with those of Murdoch’s New York Post. The idea for the money-saving collaboration grew out of both moguls’ failed bids for Newsday, which went to Cablevision for $650 million. The Post is believed to lose tens of millions of dollars a year; the News has historically been more profitable, but Zuckerman said two years ago that it was sliding into the red, although he claims a new color printing plant will change that.

Whatever Zuckerman says now, Kamen believes the outcome is all but preordained. “I think this is inevitable,” he says. “Murdoch is never going to have an opportunity to buy the Times, but if he can put together a proposal that’s reasonable for the Daily News, I believe Zuckerman will listen.”