Saturday, 7 November 2009

An interview with Rupert Murdoch was broadcast on BigPond TV, courtesy - I take it - of Sky News, which is 30 percent owned by News Ltd. I take it that the cross from BigPond TV's normal feed came from Sky because the reporter in the chair made the disclosure before the interview started.

He covered three areas:

  • News Ltd's way of handling structural changes in the economic model of news globally
  • Murdoch's personal opinions of politicians
  • The future of the Murdoch dynasty

Briefly, the second area of the interview merely served to underscore Murdoch's conservative credentials. Murdoch is an unapologetic conservative and doesn’t like US President Barak Obama, doesn’t like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In the third area, there's nothing new and I won't touch on it at all.

Murdoch likes being asked questions about the economy. He answers far more readily. The interviewer is clever in starting the interview with the hard questions about the news business, and ending on the dynasty. The vacillating, complex ellipses and non-sequiturs that characterised the early parts of the interview – when the topic was the money aspect of news – completely disappear when the topic changes to politicians and the economy.

I want to focus on what Murdoch thinks - or says - he's going to do in order to improve the economic performance of his media interests. It seems the main thing he's thinking about at the moment is legislation to protect his interests. I was a little shocked - as a blogger - to learn that he considers 'fair use' to be a "doctrine" rather than a principle of freedom of communication.

"Anything that takes peoples’ time and they enjoy ... everything is competition," Murdoch says. In other words, it's the eyeballs, stupid. He made a reference to the way the media landscape changed in the 1950s, when TV entered the arena of public information.

He also repeated elements of earlier communication, where he laments the fickle news consumer's propensity to simply click on the news they want, rather than spending time inside a news site where they can be exposed to more of the advertising that pays for news.

Murdoch says that a future paywall may not replicate the Wall Street Journal model - where some news is free but others is available only to subscribers - and may be up in front of all content on the website.

But he seems to be genuinely troubled by the Internet model of free communication, and he's decided that he's had enough.

"Is this the biggest change you’ve seen?" "Probably," says Murdoch. "But we’ve had a lot of things. In the 50s we had the arrival of TV." The advent of TV, he says, led to a monopolistic newspaper in each city. Each city could only afford a single newspaper because so much of the advertising revenue moved to TV at the time.

But Murdoch also says that he's not against the Internet.

"I love the news business. Contacting, communicating with people. I don’t mind if it’s on TV, on radio, newspapers, the Internet."

As long as he can make money from it.

"It sounds from that like the hard-copy newspaper will disappear," says the reporter. "Not for twenty years. It’s a generational thing," says Murdoch.

The reporter pointed to the words coming recently from Mark Scott, head of Australia's publicly-funded broadcaster, the ABC: Mainstream media is "An empire in decline."

"I think the ABC – I’m not attacking it," says Murdoch. "The BBC is a scandal. Everybody in the UK is compelled to pay 150 pounds a year. I think public broadcasting should be high quality. That I don’t mind."

This seems to be very similar to what James Murdoch said a couple of months ago in Edinburgh. You attack the BBC by implying that its journalism isn't high-quality. As though only a private company can provide high-quality news.

"We’ll be suing them for copyright," says Murdoch. "They’ll have to spend a lot more money on a lot more reporters. They know the law. They’ll adapt."

The reporter changed tack to cover News Ltd's other major interest, in cinema. "If newspapers are going to disappear, what about the big screen?" "There’s big screens coming into peoples’ homes. In a couple of years, there’ll be 3D."

"There’s a constant war and vilgilancy in the entertainment industry about piracy. Look what happened to the music industry," says Murdoch. He points to the recently-introduced French law for media, which don't pay for content that they broadcast, to be subject to a three-strikes rule.

Background from cNet:

France has adopted a strong antipiracy law, one that may mean those who chronically share unauthorized movies and music online will lose Web access for up to a year.

France's top constitutional court approved a revised plan to penalize those accused multiple times of infringing intellectual property, according to a report published Thursday in The New York Times.

In the spring, the court rejected an earlier version of the law.

Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, applauded the French court's decision.

"And there’s a lot of movement to have that standard in the US," says Murdoch.

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