He is well-known for his direct-speak and pizzazz. exchange4media caught up with Rupert Murdoch, Chairman & Chief Executive, News Corp., on the sidelines of the 55th Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival to pop a few questions.
It was six decades back, in 1954 to be precise, that Murdoch rescued an afternoon newspaper, Adelaide News, thus laying the foundation of what would go on to become the world’s largest – and feared – media company, News Corp. All along, Murdoch has defied conventional wisdom.
In 1964, he launched Australia’s first ‘national’ newspaper, The Australian, which even today is a premier newspaper; entered the US market in 1973 and making The New York Post a top US newspaper; storming the UK television scene in 1989 with SKY TV (thus successfully taking on the venerable British icon, the BBC); and more recently, buying Myspace.com for an astronomical $580 million, and then the Wall Street Journal. Today, with $30 billion revenues and top-notch assets across media platforms like films, books, TV, print, web, News Corp and Murdoch are pretty much what dreams are made of.
So, Murdoch, 77, agile and penetrative as ever, was obviously my top reason to come all the way to Cannes this year. I wasn’t alone in this desire to listen, and perhaps even meet, the ‘crafty old fox’. A good 30 minutes before the scheduled time for the Y&R hosted Rupert Murdoch talk on June 19, the crowd was beginning to swarm towards the Debussy auditorium. And Murdoch isn’t known to disappoint his audiences. He, along with his long-time deputy, Peter Chernin, spoke freely on a range of topics – from Barrack Obama, to media business, to importance of emerging BRIC markets. But, for me, the best was saved for the last, when Murdoch responded to my questions on media empire building and the Indian media market.
But first, a recap of what Murdoch and Chernin said while addressing the Y&R seminar, hosted by the soft-spoken Hamish McLennan, Y&R’s Global CEO.
“I take a very long term view of things and not get caught up in road-breakers along the way,” is what Murdoch repeatedly emphasised in his comments. Extending the argument, and giving a glimpse into his steely character, the media tycoon added, “The current slowdown in the US and European economy is actually a good thing. We at News Corp see it as a big opportunity to make investments into market when competition is cutting down their exposure. We are committing more budgets to our key brands like Wall Street Journal.”
It is clear that Murdoch keeps pace with the times, perhaps sometime even outpacing it. With Internet and mobile emerging as main line media platforms, Murdoch is making bold moves in these spaces. He said, “Online and mobile are big forces and we are ready to harness these platforms for leveraging our media assets. Even today, 50 per cent of WSJ’s revenues are coming from online. We see that becoming 75 per cent in the next few years.”
News Corp had invested in mobile network Jamba (in late 2006, News Corporation had teamed up with VeriSign to form the ‘world’s largest provider of mobile entertainment’ by getting controlling interest in Jamba subsidiary), and his $580 million bet on MySpace is well known.
Not one to be perturbed by the recent unmet expectations from MySpace, Murdoch said, “Myspace.com is a powerful platform. About 10 per cent of US online traffic goes to Myspace.com on any given day. It is now about seeing how marketers can make use of this channel, and how MySpace can generate revenues.”
Post the talk, when I got to speak to him, I asked Murdoch the obvious question: How does he look at India? Pat came the reply: “India is the big opportunity. Unlike China, India is a democracy, and that’s very important. We are having a good time in India, but not without the hiccups.”
What’s in store for India next, I asked. “We want to expand our Star TV brand into the regional language markets now. That is the big thing for now,” he said, Then, pausing briefly, he added, “What are the print FDI laws in India now…” Is that saying something!
After a few canned questions, I was itching to ask a somewhat personal question: What’s his advice to a young media entrepreneur on how to build a media business, even 1 per cent as successful as News Corp? With a wry smile, Murdoch advised: “Go, grab the opportunities. There are so many opportunities around you in India. I built my business that way. I am an opportunist!”
(Amit Agnihotri is Co-founder and Group Editorial Director, exchange4media Group)