21st Century Fox warned today, in its quarterly earnings filing at the SEC, that the sexual harassment charges at Fox News that led to the departures of its CEO Roger Ailes and anchor Bill O’Reilly “could have a negative impact on our ratings.”
What’s more, the company has “received regulatory and investigative inquiries” as well as “stockholder demands to inspect the books and records of the Company which could lead to future litigation.”
But the company says it isn’t worried. Although potential damages “cannot be estimated,” it doesn’t expect that they will “have a material adverse effect on [the company’s] consolidated financial condition, future results of operations or liquidity.”
And payments already made to resolve some of the charges have not been”material to the Company,” it says.
The alert in the filing came as company execs — in an unusually brief quarterly earnings call with analysts — gave a firm, but somewhat vague, vote of confidence in FNC’s prospects.
“If you go on YouTube TV and you see the No. 1 trending live channel and shows, it’s almost always the case: Fox News,” co-Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch says. “And that continues to be the case post a lot of the programming changes that we’ve had.”
FNC “continues its ratings dominance” and is still strong “with both affiliates and with advertising,” he adds. “We’re very confident in the future of that business.”
Also in the call, he and CEO James Murdoch seemed unruffled by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — which would make Sinclair by far the dominant independent owner of Fox affiliates.
Fox considered an arrangement with the Blackstone Group to make a rival offer for Tribune.
“This is not the forum to get into hypothetical conversations around M&A that may or may not have happened,” he says. “In the end we didn’t bid for Tribune.”
He calls TV stations “a strong business for us” but adds that “it isn’t a place that we’re targeting to deploy capital into. Anything we look at there is more about: Can we change our strategic position?”
Asked if he worries about a shift in power toward stations, the CEO says “our affiliate agreements are constantly something we think about and adjust….and we feel like we have a lot of options in terms of working with our partners.”
Tribune is “a big partner of ours,” he adds, “and we look forward to continuing to work with them.”
Lachlan adds that network programming, especially sports, is “incredibly important” to affiliates when they negotiate retransmission consent deals with cable and satellite distributors.
During the call Lachlan said that the Fox broadcast network’s “mixed performance in ratings this season has been frustrating for all. But we are encouraged by our development for the fall, and look forward to presenting a strong schedule at our upfront this Monday.”