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Media moguls mull digital distance

Panel included Chernin, Semel, Miller, Lynton

No crystal balls were on hand at the Milken Institute Global Conference’s session “Predicting the Future in a Fractured Media World,” but the program offered up the next best thing: a quartet of media power lords.

Peter Chernin, News Corp.’s president and chief operating officer; Terry Semel, chairman-CEO of Yahoo.; former AOL chairman-CEO Jonathan Miller; and Sony Pictures Entertainment Michael Lynton made up the panel moderated by Forbes managing editor Dennis Kneale.

Panelists looked at what percentage of their respective companies’ total revenue falls in the digital category and what that percentage will be in five to 10 years; the consensus was that great increases are a certainty. Chernin stated that News Corp. could potentially see a whopping sixfold increase in that time, from 5% to 30%, while Lynton said that Sony’s “less than 2%” stake at the moment could grow to 20% in five years and to as much as 50% in 10.

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Also discussed was the issue of large vs. small in the online world, with panelists predicting the seemingly inevitable integration of lesser concerns, following the paths of MySpace, now part of News Corp. and You Tube, owned by Google.

“Sometimes the specialists win,” said Miller. “They can do a terrific job with one tenth of the resources (of larger companies), but over time, they are going to end up integrated. It’s just a fact.”

Semel likened projected growth patterns to the days of yore.

“The Warner brothers made movies, then they bought things; they merged with companies and they decide to become more integrated.”

“We’re not wedded to certain things,” said Chernin of the overall News Corp. vision. “What’s worked well for us in the past five years is we’ve had sort of three buckets of assets. We’ve had mature assets; we’ve had growth engines, which are things we’ve started with in the last five to 10 years that are generating tremendous growth; and then we’re trying to take cash from that first bucket and invest it in the MySpaces of the world. You need to find the ideal combination of assets which will allow you to make the investments in the future.”

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