Updated: Chernin On FIM: ‘Yes, We Will Fall Short’ On $1B Revenue; ‘Too Soon To Milk For Margins’

First chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch got defensive about Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS), then News Corp COO Peter Chernin hit the stories about Fox Interactive Media not making its $1 billion goal head on in today’s earnings call: “Yes, we will fall short of what were very aggressive initial projections (but the) shortfall will be slight, nearly 10 percent.” Instead off focusing on that, he’d really appreciate it if people use Google (NSDQ: GOOG) — 5 years to $1 billion — and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) 8 years — for context. Chernin expects FIM to beat those and break $1 billion three-plus years after launch.

Among the factors he offered: the abundance of social media inventory, the fact that FIM’s growth is tied “to an entirely new category” and “it’s still hard to quantify the economic value of a friend.”

He followed that up by reeling off numbers right and left about how FIM and its anchor tenant MySpace are doing — e.g, branded revenue up 20 percent; performance revenue growth of 24 percent; revenue per MySpace unique up 49 percent for FY08; “hyper-targeted” ads are seeing double CPMs for those without that tool, leading to 75 percent of advertisers to sign up for the system again; and 54 percent of all social net ad dollars going to MySpace — adding that virtually every FIM property showed growth in the last quarter and that Hulu is off to a stronger start than expected. Overall, “we’re confident in continuing growth and profits” but he admitted again, “some things are slower than expected.”

MySpace can make it as an independent, Chernin told Jessica Reif Cohen, but would consider strategic options.

Margins: Chernin said the company “could have clearly escalated our margins this year” but preferred to invest in apps and improvements. “It’s too soon to start milking this thing for margin.”

FIM numbers: The News Corp unit had revenue of $210 million, up 55 percent from the same quarter last year. The guaranteed Google deal contributed $66 million of that. Ad revenues were up 18 percent, while operating income was $27 million compared with $24 million last year. News Corp attributes the small increase to the decision to reinvest the majority of revenue growth into the business.