Feisty Murdoch buoys FBN
EmptyAn animated Rupert Murdoch talked up the Fox Business Network and the "American Idol" franchise, touted the global branding prospects of Dow Jones and managed in passing to take swipes at a few competitors during a Q&A session with investment fund managers here Tuesday.
Amid hints of a looming recession, the News Corp. chairman and CEO appeared buoyant and feisty, aiming his most aggressive arrows at MySpace's growing rival Facebook, which has gained on the social networking leader in recent months.
The mogul told the 500-odd investors at the 16th annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference that MySpace had better security measures and deemed Facebook's moves to a more open strategy as unsafe.
"If you wanted to stalk a young girl on Facebook, it would be very, very easy," Murdoch said. "You can't do that on MySpace."
He added that MySpace presents a unique opportunity for advertisers to "hyper-target" the site's 110 million users and downplayed the notion that the site is waning in popularity because a good percentage of the nation's population already is using the portal.
When asked about a potential deal to swap MySpace with Yahoo for a 25% stake in that company, Murdoch said News Corp. has "never talked about it."
The mogul declined to provide details on FBN, but he promised that it will be for "Main Street" whereas NBC Universal's CNBC is "for Wall Street." Murdoch also suggested that CNBC had been stagnant for 10 years, since then-president Roger Ailes left to help start Fox News Channel, of which he remains president.
He said FBN, which launches Oct. 15, will focus more on "innovations" and "successes," whereas CNBC dwells more on "failures" and "scandals." Murdoch doesn't see a conflict with the fact that the Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp.'s recently acquired Dow Jones, has a contract to supply reporters to his competitor for business stories and said that he will use those reporters instead for politics and news coverage.
As for last month's $5.6 billion Dow Jones acquisition, Murdoch painted it as a long-term investment for this "unique period in the planet's history." As globalization continues and more people worldwide have more access to money, institutions like the WSJ will provide a much-needed service, he said.
"The thirst for financial information has never been like this before," said Murdoch, who predicted that it will keep growing for another 30 years.
He also gave a strong indication that the WSJ would make its online content free. It currently is available to paid subscribers only.
"I haven't made up my mind yet." Murdoch said. "It's right on the front burner."
He estimated that initial losses from making the content free of charge could be $30 million, but he said the brand could add 10 million-15 million highly valued customers worldwide. Therefore, he said, "that looks to be the way we're going."
On the broadcast side, Murdoch admitted that the contestants on the latest version of Fox's "American Idol" didn't have as much charisma as those in past seasons. He was confident, though, that the next version will be much better.
"It's got years and years of life," he said.
He also conceded that last fall the network had "too much baseball," which interfered with the debut of fall series. This year, Fox will only carry the World Series and the American League Championship Series next month.
When asked about why stock prices underperform for a company that generally has been successful, Murdoch joked that he was to blame. He said investors might be worried that he will make another risky acquisition or move.
He then defended his decision to launch Fox News Channel and to buy MySpace, both of which had come under scrutiny at the time the deals were announced. Murdoch said that MySpace is now worth at least 20 times what he paid for it.
He said, though, that News Corp. "doesn't have anything in our sights at all."