James Murdoch Makes Rare Appearance on News Corp. Conference Call

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch - Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival - 2010
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Rupert Murdoch didn't participate in a conversation about his company's earnings, but his embattled son did.

James Murdoch, the embattled deputy COO of News Corp. and 39-year-old son of company chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, made a rare appearance on a News Corp. earnings call Wednesday.

Rupert Murdoch, though, was not on the call and hadn’t even tweeted about the company’s earnings, despite being a prolific tweeter since joining Twitter in January.

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In a conference call with analysts, the younger Murdoch allowed deputy chairman and COO Chase Carey and CFO David DeVoe do most of the talking, though he did chime in when the topic of Sky Italia came up.

James Murdoch, who is chairman of Sky Italia, said the Italian satellite TV service is in the midst of “right-sizing the cost base” to take into account zero subscriber growth and the fact that “churn has picked up a bit.”

Despite the challenging macro-economic environment in Italy, the satcaster’s competitive position “has never been better,” James Murdoch told analysts Wednesday.

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James Murdoch, once considered the heir apparent who would some day run News Corp., has seen his role diminish at the company his father founded in 1979 because of a phone-hacking scandal at the conglomerate’s British newspaper group. In April, for example, James Murdoch resigned as chairman of BSkyB, the British satellite TV broadcaster that is partially owned by News Corp., though he kept a seat on its board.

“I am aware that my role as chairman could become a lightning rod for BSkyB, and I believe that my resignation will help ensure that there is no false conflation with events at a separate organization,” James Murdoch wrote in a letter to the board at the time.

The son's appearance rather than the father's on Wednesday's conference call, though, had some speculating that News Corp. was sending a message that James Murdoch is still very much in the running as a potential successor.

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Also odd was News Corp's. decision to require that questions on Wednesday come exclusively from Wall Street analysts -- none from reporters. In the past, News Corp. was one of the few publicly traded media companies that allowed questions from journalists during earnings calls.

Prior to Wednesday's conference call, News Corp. reported a $1.55 billion loss in its fiscal fourth quarter due to write-downs at its publishing assets. Revenue fell 7 percent to $8.4 billion, missing the expectations of analysts who were looking for something closer to $8.8 billion.

News Corp. shares fell 9 cents to $23.89 on Wednesday and another 3 percent during the after-hours session after earnings were disclosed and the conference call with analysts ended.