21st Century Fox COO Chase Carey must wonder if he’ll ever have an interview where he isn’t asked about the company’s recent aborted effort to buy Time Warner — as he was, again, today when he appeared at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. Investors still want to be assured that CEO Rupert Murdoch won’t take them on a wild, and potentially costly, ride. “Is Time Warner something we’re still partly focused on? I want to be clear. We’re not….We’re focused on building our businesses,” Carey says. What was the attraction, then, if Fox considers itself big enough to do what it wants? “Scale matters in our business. It doesn’t mean we don’t have enough scale. But scale isn’t black or white. Time Warner gave us an opportunity to create a unique company that had a leadership position around the world” including in digital.
With that out of the way, Carey said that Fox is interested in the upcoming Internet pay TV services from Sony, Dish Network, and Verizon — but not ready to announce anything yet. “We’re engaged with a lot of players and excited about the opportunities.” He acknowledged that a low-priced service with fewer channels, like the one Dish plans, could end up cannibalizing people who currently pay for the full pay TV bundle. “Skinnying down has complexities to it.” But Fox also wants to connect with young viewers who find cable and satellite service too expensive. “As long as we have the content, franchises and brands, we’re pretty comfortable.”
The company needs to focus on ways to popularize some of its new offerings, including Fox Sports 1 which has had a bumpy start. “I still go home and turn on ESPN. It’s time to break the habit.” That will come, he says. “We’ve said all along it’s a two- to three-year effort to build a network and we’re one year in.” Don’t look for Fox to create a premium service to compete with HBO and Showtime, though. While he didn’t rule it out, he says it would be a tall task “to start from square-one to build a premium business against those entrenched players.”
Carey urged investors — who mostly like having him at Fox — not to read too much into the fact that his latest employment contract only runs for two years. “There’s no message in there about timing” of a change in leadership, likely to one of Murdoch’s kids. “At some point it will be time for the next generation of leadership to take over. We’ll decide when that is. ….I have no plans other than to do my job to the best of my ability.”