Peter Rice upped to head of Fox Networks Group

Adds oversight of Fox Sports, int'l channels; David Hill sets new role

Peter Rice has taken another step up the ladder at News Corp., while longtime Rupert Murdoch lieutenant David Hill is segueing out of his sports-czar role to a broader global post with a mandate to develop programming and digital initiatives for the conglom.

With the promotion to chairman-CEO of Fox Networks Group, Rice adds oversight of Fox Sports, Fox Intl. Channels and the National Geographic Channels to his domain, all of which are growing realms for News Corp. Hill is shifting from chairman-CEO of Fox Sports to a role as senior exec veep of News Corp., focusing on biz opportunities and troubleshooting throughout its operating regions. He’ll remain based in Los Angeles.

Rice had been chairman of entertainment for Fox Networks Group, which encompasses Fox Broadcasting Co. and FX. He’s known to be a favorite of Murdoch’s, and the conventional wisdom on the 20th Century Fox lot is that he will eventually oversee all film and TV operations. After working on the film side, Rice shifted from running Fox Searchlight in 2009 to steering Fox Broadcasting Co. — a move seen as designed to give him some experience in TV before taking on an even broader role at the studio.

“The contributions that Peter has made to News Corporation over the years are immeasurable,” News Corp. president and chief operating officer Chase officer Chase Carey said in announcing the promotion. “Peter has proven himself at both the Fox Entertainment Networks, and Fox Searchlight before, to be one of the most innovative and strategic leaders in the entertainment industry.”

As News Corp.’s heir apparent James Murdoch became engulfed in scandal last year involving phone-hacking at News Corp.’s U.K. publishing operations, Rice’s name had even been mentioned as a possible player in the CEO succession drama at the company. In a statement on his promotion, Rice said Monday he was “grateful to Rupert, Chase and James for this amazing opportunity.”

With Hill’s shift to a corporate job, Fox Sports co-presidents Eric Shanks and Randy Freer will now report directly to Rice. The two have long been mostly autonomous in the day-to-day operation of sports, with Hill acting as more of a big-picture overseer.

Hill’s shift marks the end of an era for Fox Sports. The Aussie exec parachuted in to the U.S. in 1993 to build Fox Sports from scratch after Rupert Murdoch shocked his Big Three competitors by snatching the NFC pro football package away from CBS.

Hill’s on-air innovations include the use of the Fox Box — where viewers could see the score of a game, as well as time remaining — as well as newfound technologies with Major League Baseball, NASCAR and hockey, where Hill came up with the idea for a glowing puck.

Prior to being named chairman-CEO of Fox Sports in 1999, Hill held the same title as head of Fox Broadcasting from 1997-99. Before coming to the U.S., he helped launch Sky Television and Eurosport for Murdoch in 1988 and and later took charge of BSkyB Sports Channel, creating Sky Sports in 1991.

Hill’s contract was up at the end of this year and, according to sources, with Shanks and Freer handling the nuts and bolts of the division, he was looking for new challenges.

Immediate priorities for Shanks and Freer are the new college football package that begins in September, a new pact with the Pac-12 and negotiations with Major League Baseball (the current deal ends at the end of the 2013 season) and NASCAR (whose deal halts after the 2014 season).

As part of the restructure, David Haslingden, prexy-COO of Fox Networks Group and steward of Fox Intl. Channels and Nat Geo Channels, will now report to Rice; so too will FNG distribution president Mike Hopkins.