Succession spoilers follow, particularly about Kendall, Roman and Shiv Roy’s seemingly stupid decision to purchase Pierce Global Media for $10 billion.
On its face, the decision to purchase Pierce Global Media for $10 billion dollars — outbidding dad Logan Roy — may seem like an act of spoiled kid rebellion by the often pathetic Roy offspring, Shiv, Roman and Kendall Roy.
But they may have just stumbled into a smart business decision. And we’re about to spend 1,000 words — plus a chart and a video — explaining why. Because we think it may answer the question of who will win the game of Succession.
The HBO hit series, which returned Sunday with the Succession Season 4 premiere — has long hinted that none of the Roy offspring are worthy successors to their scheming dad, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). But Sunday’s episode hints that Shiv (Sarah Snook), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) may have hope.
Who Is the Smartest of the Next Gen Roys?
The Succession Season 4 premiere, called “The Munsters,” initially seems to frame the Roy kids’ purchase of their dad’s biggest rival as a very expensive act of rebellion by the Next Gen Roys.
Nothing they’ve done so far on the show has made them seem particularly smart: Shiv has had an unimpressive run as the figurehead president of domestic operations for the house that dad built, Waystar Royco. Kendall is an obvious mess, and pompous wannabe. And Roman once oversaw a rocket launch that ended in hellfire:
Their plan at the start of the Succession Season 4 finale was to start an idiotic media company called The Hundred in which the hundred biggest experts on a litany of subjects would offer their insights. The overhead costs would presumably be in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, and there’s no proof that there’s an audience hungry for the supposed expertise.
But when the Next Gen Roys learn that Logan Roy is about to purchase Pierce Global Media, they see a chance to focus their efforts on a shiny new thing (Kendall explains that he needs a massive distraction to avoid relapsing into heroin) while depriving their dad of his dream. They pay $10 billion — $2 to $3 billion more than Logan Roy would have paid.
He calls to mock them: “Congratulations on saying the biggest number,” he says, because he understands the lesson learned by anyone who has ever been in a bidding war for a house, car, or media behemoth: The person who pays the most isn’t the winner. The person who gets the best deal is the winner.
Sometimes, the best deal is no deal at all.
Pierce Global Media, owned by the insufferably virtuous Pierce family, is sometimes treated on the show like a prestige property with no room for growth. When Ronan goes into talk with its impossibly WASPy owner, Nan Pierce, about acquiring it, he can only muster mock excitement about getting to “talk to an old lady about newspapers.”
But what if Pierce Global Media is a better buy than it seems on the surface?
Playing out in the background of the Succession Season 4 premiere is the presidential race between the Republican candidate, the closet white nationalist Jeryd Mencken, and someone named Jiminez who is apparently the Democratic candidate. (Conor Roy, of course, is hanging in there with his one percent.)
Shiv — who is in talks to be in talks to join the Jiminez team — tries to appeal to Nan Pierce’s liberalism by noting that she believes “after this election, we all, as a country, could be in a very bad place.” She wants Nan to believe she and her brothers will uphold the left-leaning heritage of Pierce and stand up to Mencken.
Which just might be good business.
What Company is Waystar Royco Based On? What Company is Pierce Global Media Based On?
Succession takes place in an alternate reality where Donald Trump isn’t the president and no one ever mentions Fox News.
But Waystar Royco, as pretty much everyone has noticed, seems to be a fictionalized version of NewsCorp., and Logan Roy seems to be at least partly inspired by its founder, Rupert Murdoch. (On the Season 4 premiere, we overheard a talking head explain how a shootout at a gun show wasn’t really about guns.)
Pierce Global Media has no obvious real-world equivalent… but the closest is the New York Times Company.
“The Pierces are not based on any one family, but based on research into reputable, blue-blood, northeastern, legacy-media families like the Bancrofts, the Sulzbergers, the Graham family,” Succession writer Will Tracy once told Vulture.
The Bancrofts led The Wall Street Journal, until it was taken over by Murdoch. The Grahams led The Washington Post, until it was taken over by Jeff Bezos. The Sulzbergers continue to lead The New York Times.
It’s impossible to calculate the precise recent financial fortunes of The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal media empires because they have been folded into vastly larger portfolios.
But the publicly traded New York Times Company provides a very informative real-world model of what might happen to a progressive media empire standing up to a Trump-like figure:
We can just look at what happened to The New York Times Company under Trump.
In 2016, when Hillary Clinton was widely perceived to be a lock for the presidency, the New York Times Company had a market cap of about $2.2 billion dollars. By the end of the Trump presidency, it had nearly quadrupled to $8 billion dollars. (The paper’s tireless fact-checking of Trump wasn’t the only factor, but it was a big one — NYT subscriptions growth increased tenfold after his election.)
After some ups and downs, the New York Times Company’s market cap is now a little over $6 billion — which just happens to be the amount of Logan Roy’s opening bid for Pierce Global Media.
If the awful Mencken wins the presidential election on Succession, perhaps Pierce Global Media, as the progressive voice of reason/righteousness/whatever have you, can see a similar surge to the one enjoyed by The New York Times Company.
Even if Logan Roy was right that Pierce Global Media was worth less than $10 billion, and it only doubles or surges three-fold, the Roy kids will look brilliant — and prove that they really can outwit their dad.
The Succession Season 4 premiere is now streaming on HBO Max.
Main image: Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) offer Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) $10 billion for her family business, Pierce Global Media, on the Succession Season 4 premiere.