Lachlan Murdoch: Fox Focused on ‘Building, Not Buying’

James and Lachlan Murdoch tried to exude confidence on their first earnings call with investors after a generational management shift at 21st Century Fox that left them with key leadership roles.

The backdrop was not advantageous. Investor concerns about a slowdown in the cable business resulted in a punishing day for media stocks. Time Warner stock fell nearly 9%, while Disney shares dropped more than 9% after the companies reported their quarterly numbers. Fox bested projections on the earnings front, but was not spared the bloodletting, closing the day down 6.7%.

Lachlan, who has been named co-chairman alongside his father Rupert Murdoch, and James, who is tasked with serving as CEO, acknowledged that digital disruption was threatening old business models. But they tried to express optimism.

“The scale and speed of this change will, to some, be overwhelming,” said Lachlan Murdoch, adding that on the plus side, “More people are watching more quality storytelling than ever. They’re just consuming it differently.”

James Murdoch said the company was working on ways to monetize the content that it releases on digital platforms, pointing to Fox’s recent $200 million purchase of TrueX, an advertising technology company, as evidence of its commitment to making online distribution more profitable.

He acknowledged that the technological disruption was resulting in a “rebundling” of sorts, something that gives investors a chill. Media companies have profited handsomely from packaging less popular channels with their more widely viewed offerings in order to drive up rebroadcasting fees. Altering that model could mean a huge hit on their balance sheet.

Both Murdochs countered that the key defense was to invest in content, pointing to the relationships Fox maintains with artists like “Avatar” director James Cameron and “Modern Family” creator Steve Levitan as a central element in its ongoing success. The company will release 23 feature films and more than 40 television series in the coming months, James Murdoch said.

“As a creative company we’re focused on great storytelling across the business,” he said. “It’s not just quantity. We need to ensure that we produce hits.”

One area that the brothers seemed eager to talk down was mergers. Roughly a year ago, Fox abandoned its failed play for Time Warner. The thinking at the time was that by growing bigger, the company would gain negotiating heft with cable operators and distributors. Now, the brothers signaled they were embracing a more organic approach.

“We continue to have a strong focus towards building, not buying,” said Lachlan Murdoch.

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