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News Corp. President Discusses Hulu, Netflix, YouTube

Chase Carey
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Chase Carey didn't get questions about the conglomerate's succession plans and the phone hacking scandal, but he once again touted carriage fee upside for Fox News.

NEW YORK - Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Fox News - those were some of the key issues that News Corp. president, COO and vice chairman Chase Carey discussed here at a UBS investor conference on Wednesday.

During a jam-packed lunch time keynote on the last day of the Global Media and Communications Conference, he didn't get analyst or investor questions though about the phone hacking scandal that the conglomerate has been embroiled in or its succession plans once CEO Rupert Murdoch chooses to step down. Carey himself has been named as a potential future CEO since he is popular on Wall Street.

During the Q&A, he told investors that a big stock buyback program may not simply be a one-time investment, but a longer-term focus, given that News Corp.'s stock is "undervalued."

Asked about why News Corp. and its partners in Hulu recently decided against the sale of the online video site, he said it is "incredibly important to be able to develop the right strategies and business models" in the digital age. Reach, leadership position, brand and audience of Hulu are something "most people dream of," Carey added. Those factors outweighed the value suggested in the bids that Hulu received, he said, adding that his company wants to help enable Hulu to grow.

He also gave credit "to the guys who run Hulu," for creating a great and popular service. He didn't specifically name CEO Jason Kilar whose position has remained unclear after his employment contract expired earlier this year. But asked about Kilar by The Hollywood Reporter, Carey after his appearance said "he has done a great job." He couldn't say if Kilar was working under a new contract.

Signaling potential deals, Carey on Wednesday highlighted $15 billion in off-balance sheet assets that News Corp. holds in the form of stakes in such companies as U.K. pay TV operator BSkyB. The company's stock is only getting a sliver of value for such holdings, he said. Fully owning or monetizing such assets via sales would be a focus for the conglomerate, he suggested.

Asked about the advertising market, Carey reiterated that the current quarter is "a little softer" than the previous quarter, but ad trends remain good, and there seems to be "a little fresh energy" for the new year. "It is still a very good market," he summarized.

"We love our position right now," Carey also said when asked how he feels the company's Fox broadcast network and its cable channels are positioned, highlighting rising retransmission consent fees. That revenue windfall doesn't affect porgramming investments at Fox though, he said.

"We have started to get value," but the company is "significantly more than we are receiving," Carey said about Fox retransmission revenue, once again pointing out that ESPN still gets way more money. But he said boosting retrans dollars is a process.

Asked about the NFL, he said it is "a fabulous franchise" and its value in the market is "unique" and rising. Advertising sales have had "incredible strength," and Fox is valuing the rights "greatly." He said a potential deal renewal will depend on the rigts costs, saying sports is "the ultimate doble-edged sword."

He showed little interest in putting regional sports networks and other sports programming on new pay TV sports tiers as some have suggested amid the high price of sports and some players' interest in offering more tailored pay TV packages to customers. Carey told the UBS conference that sports is attractive to a "large segment" of consumers, signaling that a separate tier isn't warranted. 

By the end of 2012, Fox News will have gone through a new round of carriage deals, he reiterated a key area of upside in the cable networks space. He also touted the outlook and upside of FX and National Geographic.

Despite "hard negotiations" with TV distribution partners about retrans and carriage deal terms, content and distribution remain key partners, and News Corp. wants them to be successful, Carey told the UBS conference. But he also emphasized that they are "big, profitable businesses" - a theme network owners have used in carriage talks with distributors. He said News Corp. is happy to be on the content side of the fence these days as the value of content has risen in the digital age.

Netflix and other online video distributors are an "exciting new dimension' that adds to the entertainment eco-system and doesn't really replace, but rather complements pay TV services, Carey said when asked about his take on new players and potential cord cording trends. In some cases, he said his company made more money from deals with digital players than from traditional TV syndication sales. 

He said News Corp. won't "chase a quick buck," but new digital players like Amazon.com should bring in added revenue. Carey emphasized that library product will remain the focus for digital content deals. 

Asked about YouTube's original channels initiative, Carey said it will fill a niche that is currently not fully served.

During the Q&A portion of his appearance, Carey also got to mention American Idol's return in the new year as the top priority for Fox in the second half of the TV season. He also lauded Glee for its passionate fan base.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai