News UK CEO Talks Phone-Hacking Fallout, 'Sun' Topless Model Photos

Mike Darcey
Mike Darcey
 

CAMBRIDGE, England – News UK CEO Mike Darcey, the head of the British newspaper business of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, on Friday discussed how the phone-hacking scandal affected his company and how his team thinks about the future of photos of topless women in tabloid The Sun.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, he said the phone-hacking scandal was a major hit to his firm, previously known as News International, before he joined, but gave him confidence in its modified governance.

"There were some very serious mistakes made in the past," said Darcey. "I can be more confident than most chief executives in the media landscape of the governance that now exists in the organization."

He added: "There has been an enormous amount of change. This is a very different company than the company five or six years ago."

The former top executive of pay TV giant BSkyB was asked how Murdoch, whose 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake in BSkyB, hired him. "When Rupert called me ... and asked me if I'd want to do something new, I said, 'Rupert, you do remember I haven't done newspapers before,'" Darcey recalled.

But he said the mogul convinced him that it was about content, distinctive offerings, subscribers and advertising in both the publishing and the TV business. "Nine months in, I think he was right," Darcey concluded.

Asked what the most common time for a call from Murdoch was, he said 1:30 p.m. London time, quipping "make sure your [assistant] knows where you are."

Darcey explained that he recently bought soccer highlight video clips to show on the websites of The Sun and The Times of London to expand his firm's offerings and tie subscribers to the brands more closely. He said thinking about News UK as a news and content rather than a newspaper business was the key change of focus.

But he emphasized that there would be more to come. "The uncharitable view is that I only have one strategy -- buy [soccer]," he quipped, without detailing what other content he may be looking to develop.

Darcey on Friday also criticized newspapers that pursue a "part paid, part free" strategy, such as charging for print issues, but giving away content online for free. He said he was comfortable with the digital paywalls used by The Times and Sun and said a free-only strategy may work for other companies. "The middle ground ... is untenable," he said though. "That's unraveling."

Added Darcey: "We've got a self-imposed hole in the bottom of our bucket and we need to plug it. If anything is causing that to unravel, it is the penetration of smartphones and connectivity."

Darcey was also asked about the future of The Sun's page 3 topless model photos, which have, over the years, faced criticism that led to the Irish edition of the tabloid axing them.

The CEO said Sun editor David Dinsmore would be the person to make such decisions, emphasizing: "My job is to run the business. I don't tell the editors what to put in the paper."

But he said male and female Sun readers have said they like the tabloid's offerings. "There are around 12 million people a week who read The Sun, and they are very happy with the package," he said. "So they continue to buy it."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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