Murdoch big on retrans, maybe on Conan


News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch acknowledges that the company is considering the idea of jumping into the late night talk competition with ousted “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien, but its still at the thinking point. Meanwhile, though, Murdoch is taking credit for having redefined the network television business through retransmission consent payments.

“The broadcast network business was though moribund by many, but we’ve fundamentally changed its fotunes with the groundbreaking retransmissoion consent deal we made a few weeks ago. The precedent we’ve established means that the retransmission fees we will be collecting from cable and satellite providers as our current deals expire in the next couple of years will bring a new life into that business,” Murdoch said in his quarterly conference with Wall Street analysts.

COO Chase Carey also weighed in, taking issue with the idea that paying retrans to all of the networks would impose a burden on the cable companies. He said MSOs are highly profitable and can afford to pay, even if all networks strike similar retrans deals.

Murdoch continued to press one of his big campaigns – the idea that newspapers can charge consumers directly for access to Internet content. He said News Corporation is in talks with other media companies about how to achieve the goal of being paid web subscription fees.

With Fox emerging as the consensus ideal location for Conan O’Brien to launch a new late night talk show, following the shake up at NBC that saw the “Tonight Show” return to Jay Leno, Murdoch was of course asked about the idea. He acknowledged that News Corporation is giving “a lot of thought” to the idea of jumping into the late night competition with an O’Brien show. But Murdoch insisted that News Corp. would have to be fairly confident that such a move would be profitable. And he said no negotiations with O’Brien are yet underway.

One issue is whether such a late night talker would air at 11:00 pm, getting a half-hour jump on Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS, or head-to-head at 11:30. Murdoch noted that many Fox affiliates run syndicated programmingfrom 11:00 to 11:30, so an 11:00 start would mean some “difficult negotiations” with the affiliates.

RBR-TVBR observation: Yes, Rupert Murdoch and Chase Carey drove a hard bargain with Time Warner Cable and set the stage for Fox to make big money from retrans. But could they have done it if Perry Sook at Nexstar and David Smith at Sinclair hadn’t blazed a trail for them? For that matter, Les Moonves made CBS the first of the big networks to press the MSOs for retrans cash.