Following a rundown of the numbers, News Corp (NYSE: NWS). CFO Dave DeVoe got to the key figures left out of the earnings release: FIM numbers. Revenue at the unit was up 23 percent to $225 million, but income fell to $6 million from $24 million a year ago, due to increased investments. Last quarter, op income at the unit was $27 million.
As for the coming 12 months, DeVoe warned about difficult comps and an increasingly challenged economy — especially for broadcast TV advertising — and predicted op income growth of just 4-6 percent for the entire year. Following some technical difficulties (Rupert is in Beijing), COO Peter Chernin offered some more anecdotal talk on the quarter. Local, he reiterated, was obviously bad. And the current quarter isn’t looking very good either. But he was optimistic about other operations, including national advertising, along with MySpace.
— On MySpace: “We’re actually quite pleased with the momentum at MySpace… (for Q1) we’re pacing well against internal expectations.” He noted a “dramatic” increase in branded display advertising, with several categories up over 100 percent year over year. Other points: hypertargeting campaigns are seeing doubled CPMs and advertisers are increasingly interested in branding campaigns for the MySpace.com homepage. Outlook: “Key thing I’d say… we believe that we are still in a scale game business.” Meaning: The company will continue to invest heavily. “Our expectation is that we will continue to grow our margins in the FIM business in 09.” Costs will grow, but margins will too.
Lots more from the Q&A after the jump
Following Chernin, Murdoch gets on the line from Beijing. The symbolism and the message: the future is international. The he warns of economic “shocks”, he also notes optimistically that global GDP growth will be 7 percent. Following the recent news of fresh investments in India, Murdoch predicted that the company’s investment in “Asia’s potential and that of its people will be rewarded many many times over.”
— Revenue outlook: Management plays it real coy when asked about overall revenue outlook. Excluding local and excluding FIM, revenue is expected to grow low-to-mid single digits. But any improvement in the economy should lift this.
— Auto advertising: Obviously a weak category, but it’s much better on the national side than the local side. Chernin noted that manufacturers are using national branded TV ads to drive online traffic.
— Online video: An analyst asks: Could rise of online video, particularly user gen, hurt TV viewing? (Arguably it’s the biggest question in the world right now). Chernin: “On an absolute level, the user or user-generated content is competitive… we live in a world of infinite choice. Our job as programmers is to make sure that our programming is compelling. I don’t want to pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s just one more competitive drop in the bucket (others are video games, mobile).” On MySpace; “We’re working very hard to offer advertisers segregation opportunities (so they don’t have to advertise). Hulu: “One of the things we feel good about is the growth of Hulu… we’re now a top ten site, 3 million uniques… I don’t necessarily look at Hulu as competitive with the broadcast networks.” Instead it’s an opportunity to replace the lost broadcast reruns business.
— Network DVR: On yesterday’s Cablevision ruling: Chernin: “We are still reviewing the ruling… we were part of the ruling that appealed the original ruling, so we obviously had a strong position… historically you could assume we weren’t in favor of it.”
— Use of capital: The theme from Murdoch: conservatism. Don’t expect much in the way of acquisitions or even share buybacks at time when there’s so much economic uncertainty.
— Day & Date: Continue to explore this model. Works for some. For others there’s cannibalization. Chernin: “What’s paramount is protecting our margins.”
— Cablevision: Would News Corp. be interested in buying any of Cablevision’s assets, like its Rainbow Media unit, which seems to be on sale? Murdoch: “It’s possible that a couple of their channels would be interesting at a right price… we’re not looking at Rainbow per se.” Price would be a big issue.
— Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) talks: Chernin: Conversations are done. Murdoch: We’ve moved on. “We were willing to look at these things opportunistically.” There are no talks with anyone else, like AOL (NYSE: TWX), currently ongoing.