Peter Kafka

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News Corp. Gets Ready to Say Goodbye to Myspace

MySpace’s time with News Corp. is coming to an end.

Then again, it’s been headed that way for quite some time–it’s just that News Corp. (which also owns this Web site) is now being that much more forthright about it. News Corp. COO Chase Carey said today that the company is “actively engaged” in discussions about “strategic alternatives”.

Which is exactly what the company said a few weeks ago, shortly after laying off several hundred workers.

The only difference today was that Carey said it in an earnings call, not via a public relations proxy, and it seemed clear from his tone that the company is done with the social network.

When an analyst asked about his projections for Myspace’s losses for the remainder of the year, you could hear the surprise in his voice, when he reiterated that the “focus is on strategic options.” And asked again about timing for a decision, he said that the company was “actively engaged” in discussions.

That is: Make us an offer.

For the record, News Corp.’s $275 million charge on its digital operations, announced today, breaks down this way: $107 million of that is for the restructuring, and the remaining $168 million is a writedown, presumably focused on Myspace.

And for those who care, costs for the Daily are being assigned to News Corp.’s publishing group: $7 million of the $30 million it has spent so far were assigned to this quarter.

EARLIER:

It’s an all-News Corp. kind of day around here. Jumping on the company’s earnings call, where we’re certain to hear about the just-launched Daily tablet newspaper, along with details about the company’s $275 million writedown on its digital businesses.

(Once again: News Corp. also owns this Web site. I don’t think we’ll get mentioned during the call, though.)

4:34 pm: And we’re off. Here’s the link to News Corp.’s earnings release, so you can play along at home.

4:35 pm: On the call: COO Chase Carey and CFO Dave DeVoe. No Rupert Murdoch, which is odd since he appeared happy to answer questions this morning during the Daily unveiling.

4:36 pm: Carey on that digital charge. Also included in that number, if I understood him correctly: Losses from sale of Jamba, FAN digital display network.

4:39 pm: Now time for some context: Cable is doing nicely, as it always does for News Corp. Ad sales up 17 percent, affiliate fees up 11 percent. And that includes the one-month blackout we had with EchoStar, which cost us about $30. million.

4:39 pm: Film: We’re down, but part of that is because we had a great quarter a year ago, comparatively. But “Black Swan” is great!

4:40 pm: TV: Up, due in part because of political ads. NFL ratings and prices are up, which is good because the World Series wasn’t as good as it could have been.

4:41 pm: [If you're interested in News Corp.'s satellite business, I'll direct you to the earnings report. Back shortly.]

4:42 pm: Publishing: Down from last year. Advertising is up across the board, but Harper Collins is down, and we invested in the Daily [so that $30 million charge is *not* included in the $275 million?]

4:43 pm: “Other”: Pretty much Myspace at this point, which is a mess. A loss of $156 million, which is $31 million worse than last year. Myspace results are “worse than our expectations.”

[Apologies, that was DeVoe.THIS is Carey:]

4:44 pm: Ad markets up at all our cable businesses, but we’re not dependent on that, because we have this great revenue stream from subscriber fees.

Fox News beat all other news networks combined. It’s the No. 4 channel in basic cable. All our affiliate deals are coming up, and we’re going to get a lot more from the cable and satellite guys for the rights to that channel.

4:47 pm: Ad market strong for broadcast, too. “Absolutely thrilled” with “American Idol”‘s performance. Fox Sports doing great, too. NFL was best ever, and Super Bowl will be great. NASCAR may be down a bit, though.

And don’t forget that we’re now starting to get paid by cable guys for our Fox broadcast, too, which they used to get for free. “We’ll be taking this business to a whole new level of profitability.” Will generate $1 billion annual operating income in a couple of years.

4:50 pm: [Satellite talk, which makes me drowsy yet again.]

4:51 pm: TV studios doing great. Making a pile from “Modern Family” reruns. “Glee” a money maker, too.

Film studios not as strong this year, but that’s the nature of the business.

And don’t forget “Avatar” 2 and 3!

4:52 pm: On the Daily: Rupert is still giving briefings on this as we speak–exactly the kind of thing we should be doing.

On Myspace: Completed “rebuild” of business, and “right-sized it.” And “now is the right time for News Corp. to consider strategic options for the business…and we’re “evaluating strategic alternatives.”

Time for Q&A: First question was about retrans fees, which I missed. But retrans worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Carey says.

Q: Color on ad market, please.

Carey: “It’s really good, solid growth” across all platforms. Print not as much as TV, but everything’s strong.

Q: What do you think of TV Everywhere?

Carey: “I prefer to call it “authentication.” But “it’s a good thing…it’s struggled to get going” because cable systems have been resistant. But “at the end of the day, success has got to be built on making it a good experience for consumers or they’ll find another way….At the end of the day, consumers are going to migrate” to good experiences. “It hasn’t gotten very far.”

Q: More on authentication, please.

Carey: I don’t think that the right way to do this is to say, “You can watch something on cablecompany.com or Fox.com”–you should be able to watch it when you want, where you want.

[A lot of "you know"s in Carey's last answer.]

Q: Please talk about how you will monetize Fox content. Disney just did a Netflix deal, and most of that value comes from ABC content. What do you think about doing something similar, and making old shows available online, and do you think “Modern Family”‘s value has decreased because of online exposure, as Turner said?

A: Two different values–delayed access to current content, and library content, which is what Netflix is doing. Netflix is competing for library rights, generally. We’re a buyer–at FX–and as buyer, I wouldn’t want to pay a lot of money for syndicated TV and have it also show up at 20 million homes at Netflix. In general, TV businesses have been selling their product too cheaply. “We need to make sure we’re getting fair value for our product, no matter what the distribution channel is.”

5:06 pm: Q: What about moving up windows, etc. for video on demand?

Carey: Creating an early window “is very important for us.” Getting that window properly priced is important, and I think you’ll see people moving forward with it in the first half of this year.

[Sorry missed a question, and next one is about satellites. Even Carey is yawning as he answers.]

Q: What are your expectations for Myspace losses for the year “or earnings”?

“Focus is on strategic options” [as in, who cares? We're selling this dog. Do you have a dollar?]

Q: How does Hulu fit into your vision about monetizing content at Fox, etc.? Also, what’s up with TV syndication dollars? Still strong? If so, why?

A: “Hulu…they’ve done a great job.” Glad they’d doing subscriptions. And “I think the digital marketplace is going to continue to evolve…not going to speak for their strategy” etc. [i.e., non-answer].”

Meanwhile, “TV continues to prove itself…as second to none” in terms of value to consumers, advertisers.

Q: What are economics of the Daily? When will you break even, and what does it mean for newspaper strategy in general?

Carey: “The Daily is not a newspaper. It’s a news product” so don’t think about it as part of our newspaper business, or part of our television business.

By the way, we should do that with all brands and content. Not ruling out the Web, but for us, the digital play is figuring out how to leverage “the content brands that we have.” And digital is great because “for a pretty modest investment” you can create great stuff.

Five hours into our launch, I won’t talk about breaking even.

DeVoe: Like we said, we spent $30 million so far, and another $500 thousand a week going forward.

Q: Your prices and subscriptions for digital are based on household, not per connected device – ie, charge familes more, single people less. Wouldn’t that cut down on piracy, too?

Carey: DirectTV does charge per box, actually, and I think cable guys are doing that too, based on number of TVs. But “I’m not sure there’s a lot of upside” in that for cable networks, etc.

[Apologies, have to duck out of this for a few minutes]

[Back now, thanks]

5:30 pm: Sigh. Another Sky question!

5:31 pm: Color on timing of Myspace decision, and premium VOD launch?

Carey: Actively engaged in Myspace discussions now.

Finished. Apologies for multitasking during this one. Need an extra pair of hands, eyes, ears and another mouth today.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik