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NEW YORK — News Corp. will start seeking broadcast network retransmission fees from cable and satellite TV providers as the broadcast business “can no longer be supported” by advertising dollars alone, chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said here Friday.
Speaking at his conglomerate’s annual shareholders meeting, he reiterated previous comments from president, COO and vice chairman Chase Carey that the broadcast business model is severely challenged and needs to change. Carey had also hinted at possible retrans fees for Fox, but Murdoch made the clearest comments on the issue to-date in his speech to shareholders.
News Corp. is looking at a number of ways to change broadcast distribution models, including “seeking fair compensation” from all distributors, which should share “a small portion of their profits” to help ensure the overall health of the industry, Murdoch said. “News Corp. is determined to take a leadership position” in this.
CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves has struck retrans fee deals for the CBS network in recent years, but other broadcast network owners have not talked up the issue so far.
Murdoch also discussed various key businesses in prepared remarks Friday.
He expressed bullishness on his film business, saying he expects it to lead the holiday season with James Cameron’s “Avatar” and the latest “Alvin and the Chipmunks” installment.
Murdoch in passing mentioned the high cost of “Avatar,” but said he found a recent screening “beyond impressive.”
Discussing News Corp.’s digital business, he said chief digital officer Jon Miller has brought “renewed vigor” to MySpace and beyond.
Murdoch also once again said News Corp. is ready to start charging for content online.
He said the firm is looking to extend the approach “to all our information Websites.”
Asked about the future of newspapers, Murdoch once again suggested digital will be key. “I have great faith in the future of newspapers, but perhaps newspapers will be the wrong term,” he said. “It’s a question of presentation.”
Citing the falloff of newspaper readership among young people due to the Internet, he once again reiterated: “We intend to charge for our content on the Web.”
Reviewing the past year, the media mogul said it was “one of the most challenging” in the company’s 56-year history.
But ahead of the latest quarterly earnings report due in a few weeks, he said recent business trends have made him more confident in the firm’s previous guidance.
Also at the meeting Friday were president, COO and vice chairman Chase Carey, as well as James Murdoch and brother Lachlan.
It was a more intimate gathering of only around 50 people, including News Corp. staffers.
Despite the presence of Murdoch’s sons, succession issues came up only briefly and in the context of a joke Friday.
When well-known shareholder activist Evelyn Y. Davis said Murdoch was holding the News Corp. empire together and it may collapse if he ever retired, Murdoch said: “I’m not sure will fall apart.” He then quipped: “I hope I never retire either.”
Asked about the U.S. economy and Obama administration’s economic policy, Murdoch said: “We’re worried about the business climate” although its outlook is “probably pretty steady.”
He expects no further “vast, steep decline … nor are we going to get a steep increase.”
Talking about economic policies, he said there is a public perception that the government is anti-business. While he didn’t want to say whether that assertion is correct, he said “that (perception) is hurting the economy.”
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