News media recently have reported network CEO's positioning themselves within context of the writers strike through comments regarding the future of scripted TV. But News Corp's Chairman and 30% owner Rupert Murdoch is not a "hired gun" CEO. His entire life is tied to New Corp.
In News Corp's annual shareholder meeting and a media conference following (yeah, profits look great and the Wall Street Journal is going to become a free web site), Murdoch pointed to the fragmentation of the market for free-to-air TV in the US. With as many as 200 channels in every home through subscription TV, "old free-to-air television is seeing its audience whittled down".
While indicating that the future of television is "going to be, for a long time, on the television set in front of your couch," Murdoch called broadcast television "highly challenged industry in America" and noted that while events as the Super Bowl can still prosper, series that fill prime time are at risk for generating declining interest among audiences and advertisers alike.
Regarding script-based programming, Murdoch suggested his business model: "The essential thing is we make them very, very high quality so that they can be sold around the world and find an audience, and then be brought back to America--or to anywhere in the world, for that matter --and be sold as DVDs."
In other words, the Nielsen C3 rating can't be the only thing considered when selecting and renewing script-based programming. "We're finding that several programs, which you would think (based) on their ratings couldn't be making money ... are in fact very profitable (via DVD sales)," he continued.
News Corp is strategically position to handle the transition in the tv arena. It has a fleet of cable channels, is selling nine local Fox stations, and putting effort into serving mobile devices. Murdoch sees mobile phones as a significant media platform: "I don't see myself ever watching a classic film on my telephone, but I certainly see, you know, catching up with a football game or something while moving around."
Regarding the strike, Murdoch, whose company owns 20th Century Fox, said the screenwriters "don't have much financial pressure to apply."
"I don't think yet we've seen any ratings declines. In three months' time, who knows?" Murdoch said. "Some shows repeat much better than others," he said. "Shows that are serialized repeat badly, comedy repeats very well."
Fox, of course, is considered by many to be the network best position to weather the strike, with January to bring the popular reality show "American Idol" and the first season of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" which has been completed. And the baseball season delayed showing current season episodes of many shows.