News Corp plans to examine Comcast Corp's possible deal to take over NBC Universal to see if opportunities present themselves, but it is not involved in any talks, its top executive said.
Like we do with everything, we will certainly have a look at that deal and see what opportunities are there, but we're not in any negotiations, Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch said on Friday.
Murdoch, speaking at the company's annual meeting, also said that he was not worried about a deal that could possibly bring together NBC Universal and Comcast, saying it would not affect News Corp in any detrimental way.
General Electric Co owns 80 percent of NBC Universal and is in talks to sell a controlling stake to Comcast, a deal that would give the top U.S. cable company an interest in the NBC broadcast network, the Universal movie studio and theme parks, sources have said.
Sources have warned talks could fall apart, and GE CEO Jeff Immelt told investors on Friday it is considering several scenarios for NBC Universal. Even before the NBC Universal talks, there has been speculation that companies like News Corp, Time Warner Inc and Liberty Media Corp could be interested in GE's media division.
At News Corp's meeting, Murdoch told investors he was confident about fiscal year forecasts that the company reported earlier this year. He also said News Corp is well positioned to handle the tough economic climate and has about $7 billion of cash on its balance sheet.
The outlook for the economy is pretty steady, he said. We're not going to get another vast, steep decline that we've experienced... nor are we going to get any steep increase.
MAKE THEM PAY
Part of News Corp's strategy is to rely more on subscription television than on advertising-supported TV, and to get people to pay for news online, something many say they are loath to do. It also is considering charging for subscriptions for Hulu, the online TV service owned by News Corp, Walt Disney Co and NBC-Universal.
Successful newspapers of the future will charge for their content and aggregators will be largely excluded, Murdoch said, referring to search engine companies such as Google Inc and Yahoo Inc, where many people now read the news that newspapers and magazines provide.
The company owns a worldwide newspaper empire, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Times of London.
News Corp in 2010 will depend significantly less on ads -- an area of spending pummeled by the recession -- for the company's total revenue, Murdoch said
Murdoch, whose company owns the Fox TV network, also plans to seek money from cable and satellite TV operators that rebroadcast his broadcast channels, he said.
We will be seeking retransmission dollars from all our distributors, asking cable companies and other partners to pay a small portion of the profits they make by reselling broadcast channels, he said.
Broadcast networks have become more aggressive in negotiating cash payments in exchange for the right to retransmit their stations over cable and satellite systems.
Companies like CBS Corp have made such deals a priority as broadcasters are hurt by the shift of viewers and advertising dollars from broadcast to cable networks.
As for MySpace, News Corp's online social network which has lost ground to rival Facebook, Murdoch said the company's new management is bringing renewed vigor to the social networking site.
News Corp shares fell 34 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $12.43 in early afternoon trading on the Nasdaq stock market.