News Corp. PPV venture in the works

Fox parent News Corp. is expected to announce this week that it will form a European pay-per-view partnership, most likely with an overseas media company.

The venture will be a second form of pay-TV abroad for the global media and entertainment conglomerate, which also owns 50% of BSkyB, a direct-to-home satellite TV service in the U.K.

The move emphasizes the company’s increasing interest in creating distribution channels for its entertainment properties, veering away from its core print business.

Newspapers still contribute the largest portion to News Corp.’s earnings, but media watchers agree that company topper Rupert Murdoch is tilting his money toward Hollywood.

“TV and films is the diamond mine for Murdoch,” observed a News Corp. investor. “The thrust of the company is away from print into entertainment, and he’s creating additional distribution for the programming side through these pay-per-view ventures.”

Murdoch revealed the PPV plan Monday to a group of investors in Boston who met to hear the company’s pitch for raising $ 1.68 billion in capital in the global markets.

Murdoch told investors there that BSkyB, considered a financial disaster as little as 18 months ago, is expected to turn a profit of T70 million, or about $ 120 million, for the year ended in June 1993, compared to a loss in the previous year of T40 million ($ 100 million).

Today, Murdoch is meeting with potential investors in New York, as one of the last legs of his global road show to raise record cash through a combined stock and $ 1 billion worth of bonds to be sold in the public capital markets.

Even though News Corp. earned $ 384.6 million net in fiscal 1992, Murdoch needs fresh cash to pay down the $ 2.4 billion in debt that comes due in February 1994.

Over the past month, the Australian media baron has traveled beyond traditional global financial centers like Tokyo, London, Paris and New York to smaller cities like Pittsburgh and Kansas City in his search for new investors. Murdoch met with investors in Los Angeles last week.

Murdoch renegotiating

Murdoch also is renegotiating agreements with 149 global creditors as another step toward cleaning up News Corp.’s balance sheet so the company can raise funds more cheaply in the public markets. For fiscal 1992, the company paid out $ 714 million in interest expense–or about twice its net earnings–at an effective rate of 9.1%.

By reducing its outstanding debt and receiving an investment grade credit rating from Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s, News Corp. could significantly reduce its interest expense and increase its financial muscle so that it can make future acquisitions or fund new ventures. The company has already stated its intention to start one, possibly two new cable channels.

Wheeling and dealing

Earlier this week, the company announced that it would sell its San Antonio newspaper and offset presses to Hearst Corp. for $ 185 million as an additional step to raise cash. News has also sold off newsprint operations in Australia and the majority of its U.S. magazine operations. Its Ansett operation, a regional Australian airline, is also on the block.

Since the road show started, however, News Corp. stock has stayed within the mid-30s range, instead of bouncing up. The equity offering, which includes 9 million American Depositary Shares, is expected to be priced at $ 34 per share.

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