Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to Unveil Tablet for Schools

DOWN: Rupert Murdoch

Amid the hacking scandal, the News Corp. mogul steps down from a number of boards overseeing his print newspapers, further distancing himself from the publishing business he once cherished.

The Amplify Tablet, to be launched at the SXSWedu conference, is part of the company's push into the market for tech-based learning and content for U.S. public schools.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is set to unveil its own tablet computers Wednesday -- as part of its push into the education business and U.S. public schools. 

At the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas, News Corp. will unveil its first Android-based tablet, dubbed the Amplify Tablet. The 10-inch touch-screen device is designed for educational use in K-12 schools and is seen as a key element in the media conglomerate’s efforts in the fast-growing field of educational technology and content as American schools continue to shift towards more tech-driven educational models. The device is described as the first tablet computer designed specifically for U.S. schools.

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Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor who joined News Corp. in  2011 to head up the company’s budding education division Amplify, will make the announcement in Austin after spending much time over the past two years helping Murdoch navigate the phone hacking scandal in the U.K. and its fallout.

“We understand technology and we understand education,” Klein told the New York Times, which reported the planned tablet launch. “A lot of people who understand technology don’t understand education.”

He said he expects Amplify tablets will eventually generate 40 percent of his division’s revenue. He estimates that Amplify’s curriculum, including video games said to be as graphically advanced as those of Microsoft’s Xbox, will contribute another 40 percent.

At a UBS media investor conference in December, Klein had said that the education division currently brings in revenue of $100 million per year, but predicted a $180 million operating loss for the current fiscal year.

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The Times, which got an early look at the device, said, “the Amplify tablet revealed a sleek touch screen with material floating against a simple background. If a child’s attention wanders, a stern 'eyes on teacher' prompt pops up.”

The tablet also allows students to use emoticons, such as smiley and sad faces, to instantly tell teachers whether they understand the lesson or need more help. The Amplify tablet will come with education-themed games, such as a fighting game, in which Tom Sawyer battles the Bronte sisters, the Times said. Students can play those games outside the classroom.

Amplify is betting that school districts can use grants provided by the U.S. Education Department’s “Race to the Top” program, which was set up to bring more technology into public schools, to cover the cost of the devices.

A tablet pre-loaded with Amplify’s proprietary software and educational content will sell for $299, along with a two-year content subscription at $99 a year. A 4G-enabled Amplify Tablet Plus - for students who don’t have Wifi access at home - will cost $349.

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In 2012, News Corp. paid $360 million for a 90 percent stake in Wireless Generation, the Brooklyn-based company specializing in data and assessment tools for teachers, which became Amplify. The new division hit a roadblock in 2011 when the New York State comptroller rejected a $27 million contract with the company because of student privacy concerns stemming from the hacking scandal that was then embroiling News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper division.

“The company dealt with the phone-hacking thing with enormous praise" from Brian Leveson, who led a review into media ethics and standards in the U.K., Klein told the Times, addressing the past News Corp. troubles without commenting further.

When News Corp. splits into two corporate entities this summer, Amplify will join the publishing wing, home to the Wall Street Journal and the HarperCollins books business, both of which will provide some content to Amplify, the company has said.