Rupert Murdoch sees improving ad trends

Predicts economic bump followed by steady recovery

NEW YORK -- News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday his conglomerate has seen advertising improvements in recent weeks.

U.S. ad trends have been "very much better," he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference here, adding, "It's a pretty healthy picture at the moment."

The Fox network is "sold out solid" in the entertainment division until the end of the year, with ad rates down less than 1%, he said.

The firm's TV stations, which have been trending down 20% year-over-year, are seeing September pacing down 8%, Murdoch said. Things seem to be "getting better every week," he said.

Murdoch predicted a bump followed by a fairly slow economic recovery.

News Corp. also is finally seeing the benefit of being the most global media giant, Murdoch said. "Everywhere around the globe there is a slight lift" despite different regions and media doing differently. "India is great," Australia is strong and the U.K. weaker, he said.

Asked about the firm's cost base, Murdoch said "we've achieved a lot of efficiencies" amid the recession, but there is room for more.

Murdoch said News Corp. wants online video service Hulu to add subscription services and/or a PPV offer. His vice chairman, president and COO Chase Carey, had recently signaled interest in paid-for services.

Asked about the relationship between the Fox network and its affiliates, Murdoch said he is looking for network compensation from stations because network shows draw crowds and are costly. He didn't detail possible scenarios.

Asked about his interest in rights to future Olympics, Murdoch initially said, "I wouldn't think so," but he then added that if Chicago gets the 2016 Summer Olympics, that "may be pretty tempting."

Discussing the film business, he said he is "very confident" about Fox's outlook despite a weak market for catalog and smaller movies. Asked about Redbox, he only said that "some of us will try and window it."

He also said the recent return of Carey allows Murdoch to concentrate on bigger ideas. "I trust him 1,000%," he said.

Meanwhile, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal will start charging for mobile access on the Blackberry in the coming months, he said. He mentioned a price of $2 per week for nonsubscribers and $1 for print subscribers.

"News is more valuable than it's ever been" as the digital age provides new opportunities, Murdoch contended, shrugging off the suggestion his firm should change its name to Entertainment Corp.

"If we were Newspaper Corp., I'd say yes, we'd definitely change that," he said.