UPDATE, 3:10 PM: So much for the speculation that the new News Corp — the publishing company that News Corp is about to spin off — will pounce on some papers that Tribune wants to sell, including the Los Angeles Times. Well, at least for now. Rupert Murdoch told investors and analysts today that U.S. rules designed to bar a company from owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market make a newspaper acquisition here “unlikely.” That’s sure to comfort investors who fear that Murdoch will use the new company to make deals that they’ll hate, like his $5B purchase of Dow Jones in 2007. Many investors still believe that newspaper values haven’t hit bottom. But today’s comment leaves room for him to change direction. The FCC is considering changes in media ownership rules that would make it easier to cross-own newspaper and TV properties in a city.
Murdoch also indicated that he plans to raise The Wall Street Journal’s subscription rates, and could indirectly funnel some cash to investors. He noted that the Journal charges about $44 a month while its rival, The New York Times, charges more than $50. “There’s a dramatic difference in price,” he said adding later that “we’re looking to our readers to pay a heavier load.” What about advertising? “We’re being very realistic” by not forecasting a big increase in spending on print, he said. But execs noted that the new company plans to pay a dividend, and will set aside $500M to repurchase shares if they believe the stock is undervalued. “Ideally we’ll hold on to that money for other forms of expansion,” he says.Meanwhile Murdoch told investors that the print company will work closely with the Fox entertainment assets, even though they’ll be in separate entities. “I’m the chairman of both” and his family will control both companies. That will result in “as much harmony as possible.”
PREVIOUS, 11:18 AM: The News Corp CEO told investors and analysts today that the upcoming spinoff of his publishing assets provides him with an “extraordinary opportunity that most people don’t get in their lifetime to do it all over again.” At the first Investor Day presentation to Wall Streeters about what’s called the New News Corp (the new logo, on the left, is based on the handwriting of Rupert Murdoch and his father), the chief acknowledged that he has made some “spectacular” mistakes in the 60 years since he started off with “one small newspaper and an overdeveloped ambition.” But he added that he frequently defied skeptics. At Fox Broadcasting “people thought that Barry Diller and I were positively mad.” And with Fox News “even Ted Turner bragged that he was going to squash me like a bug — and a lot of other things.” But due to “the genius of Roger Ailes” the channel’s annual operating profits top $1B, Murdoch says. He stopped short of predicting similar results for the new publishing company where he acknowledged that some assets are “challenged.” But he assured investors that the properties — including newspapers in the U.S., UK, and Australia — are “undervalued and under-developed.” He added that his goal is to “compress the success timeline of the original News Corp from 60 years to 10 years. You might think that is crazy. But back in the 1950s we only had lead pencils and typewriters. Today we have WiFi, 4G and digital compression.”
Designated New News Corp CEO Robert Thompson picked up the theme, noting that “we are in the midst of a transformation” that will take “longer than a couple of quarters.” But he says that he’s optimistic and committed to “revenue growth and margin expansion” and is “not in for the short term.” Dow Jones CEO Lex Fenwick added some detail: He outlined a plan to create a newswire, code named DJX, that will provide timely reports from all Dow Jones properties including The Wall Street Journal. It will provide “a real opportunity to increase our market share for that very large institutional market.”