Media magnate Rupert Murdoch discussed his multitude of publishing, television and film ventures at a meeting of the Chief Executives Club of Boston on Tuesday, and said the dramatic changes in his field have only made him eager to take on more challenges.
"I feel lucky to be in the media industry," said Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of The News Corp. Limited, which holds companies on three continents. "It is the most central, exciting and challenging industry one could be in at this time and we are engaged with millions of our fellow citizens every hour of every day."
The luncheon meeting, held at the Boston Harbor Hotel, was the latest in a series of forums co-organized by the Caroll School of Management for the exchange of ideas on business and management issues among Greater Boston's corporate leaders. Tuesday's event was hosted by Boston Herald President and Publisher Patrick Purcell (who bought the Herald from Murdoch) and was attended by a record crowd of more than 200 Chief Executives Club members and guests, including Gov. William Weld and University President J. Donald Monan, SJ.
Murdoch said his long-term ambitions are to produce better newspapers, films, magazines and cable TV channels, and improved techniques for covering sporting events. His plans include a full 24-hour news channel to challenge CNN, which he believes has become ideologically left-of-center in recent years. He also spoke on general issues regarding the media, such as its role in promoting violent or other anti-social behavior.
Murdoch's holdings include Fox Broadcasting Co., 20th Century Fox Films and the New York Post in the US, while in the United Kingdom his company owns the Sun and the Sunday Times newspapers, and British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite system that provides 28 channels to more than 4 million subscribers. Over the past few years, Murdoch said, he has positioned his company to become a leader in the emerging media marketplace that links entertainment, information and technology worldwide. Yet, despite the advent of such sophisticated networks, Murdoch said he is not about to abandon interest in newspapers, which he sees as the training ground for the visual arts.
Moving into a discussion of trends in broadcasting, Murdoch said predictions that cable television would sweep aside broadcast television have proven false. "Cable is growing and doing extremely well, but free television is still the only way to mass market goods in a competitive commercial society, as we have here," Murdoch said. "I believe we'll see free television prosper, so long as it remains fresh and entertaining."
Murdoch said the future in media technology is undoubtedly in digital signals, adding that he has reserved the necessary satellite space to expand his own operations in the future. Just that morning, he said, he had received word that News Corp.'s second satellite was launched in China. He also has operations in Indonesia - which is "made for digital transmissions," he said, with 1,100 islands and a population rivaling that of the US - and in India. His company will seek opportunities in Japan, continental Europe and Russia, as well as the music industry, he said.
Asked for his views on the media's responsibility in helping shape moral values, Murdoch said there is too much talk about violence in television, but expressed concern over the popularity of talk shows "looking for the freak of the day." Murdoch reviewed several recent movies containing violence, including "Goldeneye," which he nonetheless found to be "terrific fun." He said he walked out on "Casino," however, because he felt it to be "sinister."
Ultimately, Murdoch said, the public must decide for itself what is and is not acceptable to watch, because "the ramifications of government censorship would be disastrous." Consumer tastes and spending patterns play a large role in what types of movies are made, he said, predicting the release of more family-type movies like "Toy Story" in the future.
He also played down the potential negative impact of the gradual concentration of media enterprises among a relatively small number of corporations. Consumers now have the capacity to go around traditional media avenues to obtain news and other information, he said, and this will continue as more media-related technology becomes available.
"While an elite group of journalists have dominated the media over the past 30 years, the wheel is turning and things will change," he said.
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