Rupert Murdoch opened Fox Corp.’s Investor Day presentation on Thursday with a promise that the slimmed-down company will be a Wall Street growth story.
Murdoch, Fox Corp. chairman, told the crowd in New York that he decided to sell most of his Hollywood assets to Disney in order to make the most out of all that he had assembled over the past few decades. “We were pivoting at a pivotal moment while staying true of course to our principles and our purpose,” he said.
Murdoch asserted that the 20th Century Fox studio and other assets were better off under the Disney umbrella in order to achieve scale rather than struggle to compete against the deep pockets of the tech giants moving into video.
The remaining businesses that form the new Fox Corp. — Fox Broadcasting, Fox News and Fox Sports — will be energized with new focus and resources.
“A good deal of our efforts are focused on simplifying a good deal of our structure,” Murdoch said. “We could see the shift coming in media and the danger to the industry.”
Live events, news and sports will be the laser focus of the company. Murdoch and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch vowed not to be “distracted” by other business ventures beyond the core TV focus.
“We’ve recommitted to providing great entertainment, storytelling, breaking news and challenging opinions and of course, captivating sports,” Rupert Murdoch said.
Lachlan Murdoch echoed his father’s enthusiasm for the new company’s prospects. He called the company’s corporate structure “insanely simple,” with half of its revenue coming from MVPD affiliate fees and half from advertising.
“Our news, sports and broadcasting assets have been reinvented into a simpler, stronger Fox,” he said.
Throughout the presentation, Fox executives stressed that the leaner company is better off to compete in the U.S. TV landscape as it will focus on generating affiliate fees from MVPDs on a handful of must-have channels. “Fox will lead all other networks in the rate of growth in total retrans revenue,” Fox Corp. chief operating officer John Nallen promised.
Fox’s deals with MVPDs that provide three-quarters of the company’s overall affiliate fee revenue are up for renewal in the next three years, Fox CFO Steve Tomsic said.
Lachlan Murdoch was blunt in stating that the Fox broadcast network now has greater ability to shop around other studios and production entities for programming rather than having to favor the 20th Century Fox TV pipeline. On the other hand, Fox may have fewer big suppliers to choose from in the future as its larger rivals focus on feeding content to ambitious streaming efforts.
“In the old structure we were more supply driven,” he said. The new system “will lead to a better, broader more competitive schedule.” The company overall is better off being “unencumbered by assets and strategies and attitudes that are not built for today’s eco-system.”
Rupert Murdoch reminded the crowd of the long-term track record of Fox and the windfall that 21st Century Fox shareholders received after a bidding war for the company between Disney and Comcast last year. “Investors who have joined us have prospered,” he said.
Nallen was also direct in telling analysts that the company is not for sale, not does it have a major acquisition on the horizon, at present. “We’re not running this company to sell it, we’re running it for growth,” Nallen said.
Other highlights of the presentation so far:
Fox Corp. has no plans to reunite with News Corp., the publishing-focused arm of the Murdoch empire that was split off from the film and TV assets in 2013, under pressure from investors. Emphasizing that the decision in 2013 was designed to bring “focus” to companies working in different media sectors, Lachlan Murdoch said he sees “no benefit to reversing those actions” after the birth of Fox Corp. in March following the completion of the $71.3 billion Disney transaction.
There won’t be a Fox Corp. streaming bundle offered as a direct-to-consumer offering any time soon. Fox Corp. chief operating officer John Nallen told investors that company leaders don’t see a “meaningful opportunity” to enter the DTC arena like other media giants.
Fox Sports chief Eric Shanks talked up the company’s interest in legalized sports wagering. Fox Corp. made a $235 million investment in Stars Group to create what it called “a national media and sports wagering partnership” to be named Fox Bet. Shanks said Fox’s research shows that sports betting will be a $7 billion business by 2025. Fox sees the sports wagering opportunity as “simply massive,” Shanks said, as it will become “a growth category for sports advertising at the national and local level.”
Fox Entertainment head Charlie Collier disclosed that the company is launching an unscripted TV production unit and will takeover production of talent competition series “The Masked Singer” in its second season. He said the shift will allow the show to be produced at a lower cost than in season 1, which was produced by Endemol Shine North America and is now part of Disney. Craig Plestis will continue as showrunner in season 2, while Endemol Shine will still produce the show in territories outside the U.S.
Collier, like other Fox executives, emphasized what he characterized as Fox’s strategic advantage in being a smaller operation overall than under the 21st Century Fox era. Fox won’t have an in-house studio to generate shows but it will command a piece of the action on shows licensed from outside shops. “We’ll have ownership and upside in the shows without the margin strain of studio overhead,” he said. “We’ll realize many of the benefits without the same level of infrastructure costs.”
Collier added that Fox will “invest with discipline” in programming and related areas. “We are actively bolting on capabilities that will allow Fox Entertainment new growth.”
Jack Abernethy, Fox Television Stations CEO, talked up the Fox O&O group’s strong presence in the political advertising arena in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan. “We think the 2020 presidential election will bring another windfall of revenue in fiscal 2021,” he said. Abernethy said more station acquisitions are a possibility “if the right stations become available at the right price.”