Rupert Murdoch Clashes With Shareholder at Annual Meeting

Rupert Murdoch Oct 2013 P

"You're a great free-speech advocate and you're shutting down questions after 25 minutes. Surely the director realizes this is a joke," said the shareholder

A surging stock price — a return of 140 percent in three years — was arguably enough to placate most investors, though things nevertheless got a little testy at the 21st Century Fox annual meeting on Wednesday when a shareholder tried to ask chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch more than his share of questions.

Murdoch's opening remarks at the annual meeting of shareholders in Los Angeles focused primarily on record financial results, hit TV shows, blockbuster movies and a rosy outlook. The only hint of conflict came during the question-and-answer period, which was preceded by a reminder from Murdoch that the rules dictate that each shareholder is limited to two queries no longer than one minute apiece in length.

Shortly after the admonition, Australian shareholder Stephen Mayne — a city of Melbourne councilor and an activist who has challenged Murdoch off and on for 15 years — asked about how the executive is splitting his time between 21st Century Fox and News Corp, where he is executive chairman. He also asked about rising executive compensation (Murdoch's rose to $29.2 million from $28.9 million).

Mayne returned to the microphone a few minutes later to ask further questions and Murdoch said he'd allow him only one more. "Go ahead. Come on," Murdoch told the shareholder, who complained about the company's nonvoting shares but then tried to squeeze in a few related comments before Murdoch shut him down.

"You're a great free-speech advocate and you're shutting down questions after 25 minutes. Surely the director realizes this is a joke," said the shareholder, who provided a bit of drama to the meeting, which was mostly focused on how well the company has been doing since the split from News Corp.

Outside of that exchange, it was business as usual during the 30-minute meeting. The company's slate of directors were easily elected, and two proposals supported by the board were overwhelmingly passed, one ratifying Ernst & Young as accountants and another to approve — on an advisory, nonbinding basis — executive compensation.

"I'm proud that I can report the company has never been better positioned to benefit from the global demand of quality content," Murdoch said.

Murdoch told the assembled that he will not settle for "commoditized" brands or content that "runs in the middle of the pack." He said the conglomerate's cable networks are the "engine of growth" and he praised FX as "one of the most pioneering networks in television."

Cable networks brought in $12 billion in revenue for the year, the most ever, Murdoch said.

He said the Fox News Channel in the third quarter was the most watched basic cable channel in weekday primetime. When a shareholder asked if Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen might balk at a new deal with FNC, as he has with Time Warner's Turner and CNN, Murdoch said: "There's no way that he would challenge Fox News."

He said the Dish deal is up for a renewal in a few months and that he has already spoken "informally" about it with Dish executives.

Murdoch acknowledged that broadcast TV has been underperforming.

"On the entertainment side, we face challenging headwinds, but we have new creative leadership and we must be patient if we rebuild our schedule on the broadcast network," he said.

On the film side, Murdoch praised the studio's "diversified approach" that has included "breakouts" like The Fault in Our Stars and The Grand Budapest Hotel alongside blockbusters like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Rio 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Also at the meeting, Murdoch announced the completion of a previously announced satellite TV deal.

"Just this morning, we completed the transfer of Sky Italia and our interest in Sky Deutschland to BSkyB to create a pan-European digital television leader through the combination of these assets," Murdoch said. "We have long believed that combining the European Skys would create enormous long-term value, and our agreement, which maintains our 39 percent ownership stake, positions us to benefit from the future growth of the strengthened company." 

Nov. 12, 2:50 p.m. This story has been updated to add more remarks from Rupert Murdoch, stock information and the results of voting.