News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch has likely never acknowledged (at least not publicly) that he has failed at something, particularly when it involves a market worth billions of dollars, but he appears to have conceded defeat in his attempt to build a competitor to Google News. According to several news reports today, an ambitious attempt to bundle News Corp. content along with that from other publishers and sell it as a subscription package — a venture code-named Project Alesia — has been axed, just weeks before it was supposed to launch.
The project, which was named (by Rupert’s son James, with typical Murdoch hubris) after a famous military campaign by Julius Caesar, had reportedly already sucked up about $30 million in funding, and had a staff of more than 100. The venture was being led by Ian Clark, former managing director of thelondonpaper, and a News Corp. digital specialist named Johnny Kaldor. According to one report, it had already booked $1.5 million worth of advertising in other publications to promote the launch, which was expected within a matter of weeks.
The project was designed to aggregate content from all of News Corp.’s various properties — including The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World — and distribute it via the web, mobile devices and the iPad. It was also intended to include content from other publishers and broadcasters as well, and those partnerships appear to have been part of the problem leading to its demise. According to sources who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter, some of the partners were not ready technologically or administratively, while others apparently preferred to work on their own mobile and iPad strategies rather than bending to Murdoch’s will. (Not wanting to partner with Rupert Murdoch? Imagine that!)
A report by the industry news site MediaWeek, meanwhile, said there were also concerns about the runaway costs of the venture — which isn’t surprising, given that spending $30 million over a year is a rather impressive amount, and the site hadn’t even launched yet. The project is expected to shed most of the 80 or so freelancers that were working on the launch, and will try to find room for the rest of the staff at some of Murdoch’s other properties. Now MySpace has another heavily subsidized News Corp. failure to keep it company, and the digital savvy of the company’s octogenarian founder (not to mention his senior executives) takes another spear to the flank.
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