It isn’t the kind of thing a network exec wants to admit the week before broadcasters open the upfront ad sales season. But the News Corp COO, in a quarterly call with analysts, couldn’t avoid the fact that this season’s ratings declines show “it’s not been a great year for the broadcast business overall from a creative perspective.” Carey says it’s time for networks to “discard a few habits and rules and take some shots. Hopefully next week will be the beginning of that process.” While he didn’t offer specifics, he says one possibility is to “be a bit more targeted [in programming] and invest deeper—take fewer bets and bet deeper.” Carey acknowledged that as digital video becomes more popular “there’s no question there’ll be more and more choices and people will find those choices.” But the exec says he still has faith in broadcasting — as long as it can collect revenues from subscriptions as well as ad sales. He declined to offer more insight into his recent threat to make Fox a pay TV service if the courts jeopardize the dual revenue stream model. Some analysts say that could happen if justices agree that streaming service Aereo can distribute local over-the-air signals without paying broadcasters. “If that dual revenue stream is not available, there are other paths we can pursue,” Carey says. He adds that the “most exciting” opportunity for Hulu is to focus on boosting subscriptions. Broadcasters can add “original and other unique product” and “take advantage of its leadership position in the digital space.”
Much as he loves subscriptions, Carey’s optimistic about upfront ad sales. Still, he adds that while “some of our colleagues like to make predictions, I’m not going to get into the prediction business” — an apparent reference to CBS chief Les Moonves’ forecast last week that his network could see as much as a double digit percent increase in its rates.