Murdoch Weighs Free Wall Street Journal Online

News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday that increased globalization has ushered in an era of "enormous opportunities" for The Wall Street Journal and the coming Fox Business Network--one of which comes from making the Journal's Web site free.

"That looks like the way we're going," he said as News Corp. completes its purchase of WSJ parent Dow Jones.

While some $30 million in revenue would be lost from subscription dollars for the site, he said the figure would be made up "just in textual search alone."

In general, speaking at an investor conference Tuesday, he said: "The thirst for financial information has never been like this before, but it shows every sign of growing and continuing for the next 30 years, so we see a very big future."

Murdoch declined to provide much detail about FBN, launching Oct. 15, but reiterated his pledge to be decidedly different than CNBC, a la Fox News Channel's 1996 launch vis-à-vis CNN.

Like Fox News' aim to attract viewers outside big metropolitan hubs on the two coasts, he offered the bromide that "CNBC is a financial channel for Wall Street ... we're for Main Street."



And he said that CNBC spends too much time focusing on "failures" and "scandals" and "politics."

On the other hand, he indicated that FBN would feature Journal reporters' commentary on politics--as well as national affairs and other topics--suggesting that the network would offer a promotional opportunity for the paper.

CNBC has an exclusive deal for the Journal reporters' commentary on business news for several years to come.

FBN will initially receive about 11 cents per subscriber for the 33 million homes it launches in, Murdoch said.

With the Journal, he added that News Corp. has identified $100 million in cost savings that will come from integration with the company--and he indicated that News Corp. will turn the Journal's Web site into a free offering (The New York Times just abandoned its efforts to charge for part of its site).

"I haven't made up my mind yet," he said, although he added that making the site free "looks like the way we're going."

He predicted that would lead to a small circulation drop of perhaps 15,000 for the print edition and a loss of perhaps $30 million in subscription revenue, but "if the site is good," greater dollars would come via contextual search--and an audience perhaps 10 times higher of "the most affluent, the most influential people in the world" that advertisers would hunger to reach and pay a premium for.

Separately, he said News Corp. receives about $600 million a year in affiliate fees for its cable channels and expects that to reach some $1.2 billion by 2010.

And he said the Fox broadcast network is "very very happy with" the new currency in the market--commercial ratings for "live plus three day" viewing--which he said could add slightly to the network's GRPs as people record and watch shows on a delayed basis with DVRs.

He added that the network's "American Idol" should recover its ratings momentum after a headwind last year, brought on by partly by what he termed a lack of "charismatic contestants" who have performed in prior years.

"I think it's got years and years of life in it," he said.

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