Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Rupert Murdoch Still Needs Allies for His Digital News Crusade

Within the next two weeks or so, we’re supposed to hear about Rupert Murdoch’s digital news subscription service–the one he has been trying to put together for many months.

One problem: That service is supposed to feature content from publications other than those owned by Murdoch. And sources familiar with News Corp.’s plans tell me Murdoch has yet to sign partners on to the venture.

News Corp. officials do say Murdoch is hopeful about bringing on Gannett (GCI), the publisher behind USA Today and 82 smaller papers. A person familiar with talks between the companies described them as “late stage.” A spokeswoman for News Corp. (NWS), which owns this Web site, declined to comment; Gannett officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

And it’s possible that Murdoch’s lieutenants, led by digital boss Jon Miller, have other deals in the works that they’re close to closing.

That’s certainly what Murdoch hinted at in the prepared remarks he delivered at the start of his May 4 earnings call:

Today, we are in final discussions with a number of publishers, device makers and technology companies…and we will soon develop an innovative subscription model that will deliver digital content to consumers…wherever and whenever they want it.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question about the subscription plan, Murdoch went further, announcing that his company would be “giving a press conference in about three to four weeks which we hope will have some important announcements in.”

But that would be a more effective press conference if Murdoch could announce that he has convinced other big publishers to embrace his model. Right now, at least, he can’t say that.

This might seem like a classic example of Murdoch going off script during an earnings call, which happens with some frequency. But in this case, News Corp. officials have been working on a similar timetable behind the scenes. For instance, I’m told that they have been casting about for a public relations agency to help promote the plan and have been telling prospective candidates about their proposed schedule.

So it seems that Murdoch may have been intentionally placing his cart pre-horse in hopes that doing so would speed negotiations along. Can’t wait to see if he’s right.

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