News Corp.'s James Murdoch Steps Into

Younger Murdoch has top billing at San Francisco investor conference

James Murdoch stepped into the limelight at a major investor conference talking up sports rights, India, News Corp.’s impending split and Comcast’s recent agreement to buy in all the rest of NBCUniversal from GE.

The youngest son of chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch is deputy COO and chairman-COO of international and has appeared on a few earnings calls since he returned from the U.K. in the wake of a nasty phone hacking scandal, but always taking a back seat to COO Chase Carey. This time he had top billing.

“Look, I can’t speak to their business or strategy but I wasn’t surprised and will continue to not be surprised by companies who want to invest in” content, he said in response to question about Comcast at the San Francisco confab.  “Where will the mid-sized players land? What do they do? That’s a question for the industry. I think the domestic industry is going to change a lot over the next few years.”

He said the sweeping new affiliation deal Fox inked earlier this month with the nation’s largest cabler gives it “clear visibility” on affiliate growth and new channel launches and on “what sort of authenticated experience we will be able to offer customers.”  He didn’t talk specifics about a new Fox sports network in the works that Carey acknowledged recently is the industry’s worst kept secret.

The younger Murdoch agreed that sports has gotten costly but the key is to have enough of it that you can turn down the overly expensive deals. “It’s a question of creating the ability to make those choices by balancing the portfolio you have.”

He was upbeat on Fox International Channels, especially in India where local language networks are sprouting up rapidly.

And he urged investors to look closely at the new News Corp., which will house all News Corp.’s publishing and “an Australian multimedia company” once the company splits, instead of just focusing on what will become the Fox Group.

“There are obviously some sector challenges but there are some strong brands and franchises in that business as well.” It includes The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins, which he said is being transformed by e-readers.

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