Rupe’s deputy stays put

Chernin extends contract for another five years

This article was updated at 9:31 p.m.

News Corp. inked a long-awaited deal with chief operating officer and prexy Peter Chernin, putting to rest some succession concerns that swirl around the company.

The deal, which took nearly a year to negotiate, extends Chernin’s contract for another five years starting Aug. 1. Chernin is oft-mentioned as a potential successor to Michael Eisner at Disney, and his name has been shortlisted for any number of potential top media jobs.

But the signing will keep Rupert Murdoch’s top deputy at his side at least for the near-term. His previous contract had been set to expire in November.

“I’m enormously fortunate to have worked side by side with Rupert as News Corp. has become a global media company that today is without peer,” Chernin said in a statement.

Chernin was reported to be seeking an out clause that would allow him to leave to take a CEO job at another media company. News Corp. executives declined to say if the new contract contained any such clause, and a spokeswoman said News Corp. is not obligated to release the terms of the deal as long as it remains incorporated in Australia.

News Corp. plans to reincorporate in the U.S. later this year.

The signing relieves some concerns about succession at the company, still tightly controlled by 73-year-old Rupert Murdoch. Chernin is considered on Wall Street to be one of the top operators in the media business. “He’s done a tremendous job developing the Fox assets,” said Rich Greenfield, analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners. “I think it’s a great sign for News Corp. and Fox investors.”

Chernin’s importance to the company is amplified by News Corp.’s succession plan — or lack thereof — that will put one of Murdoch’s sons, Lachlan or James (both are in their mid-30s) in the CEO spot when he steps down.

Greenfield said with Chernin’s continued presence, succession becomes less of an issue.

The signing comes after Chernin helped News Corp. take control of satcaster DirecTV, fulfilling Murdoch’s lifelong goal of gaining a distribution network in the U.S. News Corp. has similar satellite TV services in the U.K., Asia, and Latin America.

Chernin joined News Corp. in 1989 as president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting, launching “The Simpsons,” “In Living Color” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Later, he was CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment as the studio released blockbusters such as “Speed,” “Independence Day” and “Titanic.”

Chernin has been president and chief operating officer of News Corp. since 1996.

Before joining News Corp., Chernin was prexy at Lorimar Film Entertainment and exec VP at Showtime/The Movie Channel. He’s worked as an editor at Warner Books and as book publicist for St. Martin’s Press.

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