May 29, 2013

New News Corp: 'Chance To Do It All Over Again.'

From SmartMoney — News Corp. (NWS, NWSA) Chairman Rupert Murdoch told investors Tuesday that the print media company to be spun out of the media conglomerate next month might consider newspaper acquisitions in the U.S. "if the price were right," but that regulatory hurdles made such deals "pretty unlikely."

The media company, which plans to spin off its newspaper, book-publishing and Australian assets in a company taking the News Corp. name, has been seen as a potential bidder for the Los Angeles Times, one of a number of Tribune Co. (TRBAA)-owned newspapers now on the market.

Mr. Murdoch didn't specifically refer to the LA Times in his remarks Tuesday, although last summer he said he would think about a possible purchase. News Corp. owns TV stations in Los Angeles, however, which given cross-media ownership rules would currently prevent any company controlled by Mr. Murdoch from buying a newspaper in Los Angeles. Mr. Murdoch will effectively control the spinoff company, as he does News Corp. currently.

Mr. Murdoch was talking to investors at a presentation to highlight assets of the spinoff, which will retain the News Corp. name. Those businesses include Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, its British and Australian newspapers as well as book publisher HarperCollins and the education business Amplify. Meanwhile News Corp. will be renamed 21st Century Fox, holding the bulk of the company's businesses, primarily its film and television assets.

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Murdoch said he had made "some spectacular" mistakes during his career building the media conglomerate and presented the pending spinoff as "the chance to do it all over again."

Mr. Murdoch noted "I could have done without the stress of nearly bankrupting the company and my family" after the launch of Sky Television in Britain, a costly endeavor. Sky eventually merged with British Satellite Broadcasting, to form BSkyB, owned 39% by News Corp. Mr. Murdoch noted that "today BSkyB has over 10.6 million customers—and growing."

Despite the errors, Mr. Murdoch said News Corp. had "confounded expectations' along the way, including with the launch of the Fox broadcast network in 1986 in the U.S. and Fox News Channel.

Mr. Murdoch acknowledged "individual challenges" facing some of the print media company's businesses. Newspapers, in particular, have been hurt by sharp declines in print advertising, as readers and advertisers have defected to the Web.

In answer to a question about advertising, Mr. Murdoch said "we are being very realistic and not expecting any big expansion." He said he thought economic conditions were a big explanation for recent declines in print advertising.

He also said he sees room to boost subscription prices at certain newspapers, noting that the company currently charges around $24 a month for print and delivery of WSJ, compared to more than $60 for the New York Times.

Dow Jones CEO Lex Fenwick told investors that Dow Jones plans to introduce a chat-style communications service for Dow Jones subscribers, one of a number of new products being introduced.

Mr. Fenwick sought to differentiate the Dow Jones communications tool from Bloomberg LP's popular chat service, noting that Dow Jones won't have access to chat information emanating from the product. The chat information "is strictly stored on" on client servers. "We can't see it. That's a first." Mr. Fenwick noted he was a longtime executive at Bloomberg L.P. He joined Dow Jones last year.

In recent weeks, Bloomberg has disclosed that its journalists had access to certain subscriber data, including login history and a summary of the most frequently used functions on Bloomberg terminals. Bloomberg, which took away the newsroom's access to the data last month, recently appointed former IBM Chairman Samuel Palmisano to conduct an independent review of the company's data practices.