Murdoch Sees Strong New Year at Fox Entertainment

The executive expects ratings to pick up in 2005 with the Super Bowl and new-show launches.
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News Corp.

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exec Rupert Murdoch is banking on a strong start to 2005.

Speaking Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference in midtown Manhattan, the executive said he's confident that the company will get shareholder approval this fall for its move stateside. He also expects ratings at the

Fox

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television network to pick up in November and December before enjoying a January jolt.

The executive spent much time discussing the economics of sports on television, saying he expected a solid rate increase but "nothing ridiculous" in the National Football League's new TV contract, which is being negotiated now. The NFL already holds by far the most lucrative TV sports franchise, and league officials hope to push through a sharp increase in fees for their next deal.

The outcome of the NFL talks loomed over much of the rest of Murdoch's comments. Asked whether he'd like to start an all-sports cable network to compete with

Disney's

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ESPN, he replied, "We would like to very much." But Murdoch added that doing so would amount to a "pointless exercise" without NFL games. But he then added that putting more NFL games on cable might lead to greater congressional pressure, a hassle the executive suggested he could do without.

Murdoch shrugged off speculation that News Corp. could be in the market for U.S. Internet properties, saying he views the Web more as "as an extension of our existing business," rather than a standalone venture.

Murdoch pointed out that his

New York Post

is among the most popular U.S. newspaper Web sites, but the company keeps down costs by simply putting the newspaper stories online -- rather than running an entire separate online edition.

The executive said he doesn't expect to see a ratings turnaround at the Fox network in the next month. That's because baseball's playoffs "break the rhythm" of regular programming, though Murdoch conceded that the matchups in this year's major league baseball playoffs are otherwise favorable, with big-market teams accounting for most entrants.

Murdoch added that airing the playoffs puts Fox in a position where it must introduce new shows and reintroduce old ones in November and December, during sweeps. As a result, Murdoch expects ratings those months to improve from last year, but "I don't think we'll win" in the network sweepstakes.

Things may be very different in January, though, with the launch of

American Idol

,

24

and the Super Bowl.

On Tuesday, News Corp. fell 33 cents to $33.18, while Fox rose 53 cents to $28.66.