Tony Vinciquerra to Leave News Corp.'s Fox Networks Group After 10 Years

10:24 AM PST 01/06/2011 by Lindsay Powers, Georg Szalai
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David Haslingden, who has led the fast-growing Fox International Channels, will take on many of his duties in a new structure that gives News Corp. president Chase Carey more direct oversight.

Tony Vinciquerra is leaving his post as Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO on Feb. 11 - days after the Super Bowl on Fox, and News Corp. is reorganizing the unit. Vinciquerra had been News Corp.'s top TV executive for the past 10 years.

The company said Thursday that David Haslingden, CEO of the fast-growing Fox International Channels, will relocate to Los Angeles to assume the role of president and COO of Fox Networks Group and take on most of Vinciquerra's portfolio in a new structure that gives News Corp. president, COO and deputy chairman Chase Carey more direct oversight.

"Tony has done an outstanding job building the Fox Networks Group into a powerful and important asset for the company,” said Carey in a statement. “We are grateful for his leadership over the past decade and, while we will miss his guidance, we respect his decision to seek new challenges at this point in his career."

In his role, Vinciquerra oversaw the Fox network and its cable channels, including FX and National Geographic, in a structure that observers said was not always easy to understand.

What took observers by surprise - and had some wondering about potential conflicts as reasons for the departure - was that this is the second rejig of the Fox Networks Group within the past 12 months. "It was a surprise, as there was a reshuffling of the very talented senior executive suite roughly a year ago that gave Tony more power, but president of U.S. cable networks Rich Battista was given a more advisory role, and he left later in the year," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce.

Company sources though were firm and clear in saying that Vinciquerra was not forced out and had a strong financial performance throughout his tenure to back him up. Instead, he decided it was time to move on and told his boss Carey last summer that he was thinking about leaving well before his contract, which had two years left on it, was coming to an end. Carey asked him to stay to help see through two major retransmission consent deals, including the very contentious one with Cablevision this past fall. Vinciquerra agreed, and the two started discussing a possible succession scenario that finally came together now, according to one source.

Last year, Vinciquerra's name came up in chatter about possible executive appointments at NBC Universal following its acquisition by Comcast.

Carey, who previously ran DirecTV as CEO, and Vinciquerra had no major disagreements or showdowns, but they shared similar strengths and expertise, particularly in the TV distribution field, so there was a feeling of somewhat of an overlap of skills since Carey's return to News Corp. - as chairman Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man - in 2009, two sources said.

For example, Carey early on made clear that the Fox broadcast business needed a second revenue stream in the form of retransmission payments and got very involved in the process. 
"With that heavy skill set at the table [and his long tenure], Tony likely felt it was a good time to move on," said one source.

Vinciquerra apparently wanted to wrap up loose ends and leave at an opportune time for the company - and, by extension, for himself - though. "There are no major issues facing the operation, and he is leaving while on top," said one source.

About his future plans, Vinciquerra said on Thursday: "It’s time for me to pursue a new, probably more entrepreneurial path, and I’m excited to see what unfolds before me."

Sources near him said he has had a growing interest in the broadband business, which has been at least partly fueled by his role as a board member of Motorola. But he is expected to take some time off before pursuing his next career move.

Meanwhile, Vinciquerra's planned departure allowed Carey to reward several high-performing executives, but also adjust reporting lines. "It is Chase molding News Corp. to his liking," suggested analyst Joyce.

Carey liked the idea of having more direct reports at the networks group instead of one replacement on Vinciquerra's level of CEO, so that he can get a better view inside of the various parts of the West Coast TV operation, according to one person familiar with the situation. Carey spends about a week per month on the West Coast, according to sources.

“I’ve had an amazing decade at this company and am proud of the many accomplishments we’ve made as a team, particularly how we’ve worked together to evolve the retransmission consent landscape, changing the financial structure of broadcast television in America, while also building one of the industry’s most vibrant cable channel portfolios,” Vinciquerra said. 

While Haslingden is a clear winner in the new management structure, he is expected to have somewhat of a learning curve after relocating to LA. Haslingden has led the Fox International Channels (FIC) as CEO since 2001 and will be taking over most of Vinciquerra’s business responsibilities, overseeing strategic business development, finance, legal, advertising sales and corporate functions across the group. The Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network are not part of his portfolio.

The new FNG head, who was born in Australia, looks back on a long career at News Corp. Before his stewardship of FIC, Haslingden served as executive vp of STAR TV, News Corp.'s Asian pay TV arm. Before that, he worked at News Ltd. in Australia. Haslingden holds a Masters of Law degree from Cambridge University in England and a Bachelors degree in Arts from Sidney University.

Other trusted hands are also getting expanded duties or a direct reporting line to Carey. FNG executives David Hill, chairman and CEO of Fox Sports Media Group, Peter Rice, chairman, entertainment, Fox Networks Group, and Mike Hopkins, president of affiliate sales and marketing for Fox Networks, will now all report directly to Carey as part of the new structure.

Hopkins has been a key player at News Corp. as he has led the retransmission talks with the support of Carey and Vinciquerra. He is now adding digital distribution of the firm's cable networks to his duties.

Hill has long been a trusted programmer at News Corp., and one source said Carey felt that the non-fiction programming at the National Geographic Channels domestic joint venture, which he is adding to his portfolio, would complement his sports duties.

In a promotion, Hernan Lopez, who earlier this week showcased the growth momentum at FIC to an investor conference, is being promoted from president and COO to president and CEO of FIC, reporting to Haslingden.

Also promoted were Randy Freer and Eric Shanks, each of whom held separate president titles at Fox Sports. They will now serve as co-presidents and COOs of Fox Sports Media Group in a move to a higher corporate level. They will take on direct responsibility for the sports cable channels, including Fox Soccer Channel, SPEED, Fox Deportes and FUEL TV, reporting to Hill. Shanks and Freer will also gain oversight of all digital ventures for the sports group. The co-head structure is mindful of News Corp.'s shared leadership elsewhere, such as that of Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopoulos as co-chairmen of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

Read Vinciquerra and Carey's memos to staff after the jump:

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