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Murdoch Makes Case for Free WSJ Online

Reuters
Tuesday, 18 Sep 2007 | 10:58 PM ET

News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday sketched out early plans for Dow Jones, saying he leaned toward making the online Wall Street Journal free but had not yet made a decision.

Murdoch also projected about $100 million in cost savings, or double the amount earlier anticipated, saying he had identified "low-hanging fruit." His $5.6 billion purchase of the publisher of the Wall Street Journal is expected to close in about two months.

Murdoch said he saw opportunities to increase growth at Dow Jones. Like the rest of the publishing industry, Dow Jones has been grappling with slowing advertising growth.

"Dow Jones presents a great challenge," Murdoch told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. "We think there are enormous opportunities ... We're about expanding revenue."

He also talked about building a closer relationship between the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, which compete with Reuters and Bloomberg. "Between the two, you have 1,600 journalists. That's a lot of journalists. There's a huge resource there to build on," Murdoch said.

He reiterated his proposal to make the Wall Street Journal's Web site free, rejecting criticism that it would hurt the newspaper. Analysts have said a free wsj.com could be a risky move as the site is a rare Internet property that has managed to attract paying customers.

Murdoch said making the site, which currently charges an annual subscription fee of $99, freely available online would help boost viewership and revenue globally. "Will you lose $50 million to $100 million in revenue? I don't think so," Murdoch said. "If the site is good, you'll get much more."

His comments came a day after the New York Times said it would end its paid TimesSelect service to attract more online ads.

Fox Business Network

Dow Jones resources are expected to contribute to News Corp's Fox Business Network, seen as a potentially strong rival to General Electric's CNBC. It launches on Oct. 15.

Murdoch said he envisioned a network that would look very different from the reigning cable business news network, which also competes with Bloomberg television. "CNBC is a financial news network for Wall Street," he said. "We're for Main Street."

CNBC spokesman Kevin Goldman, responding to the Reuters report of Murdoch's comments, said: "CNBC's focus is simple: we're about providing fast, accurate, actionable and unbiased business news to people with a lot of money and those who aspire to have a lot of money."

Analysts have questioned whether there is a large enough audience to support a third business news network, especially after Time Warner's CNN closed its financial channel several years ago.

Murdoch said he faced a similar criticism when he started the Fox television network and when he launched Fox News, which became the top cable news channel by viewership and whose advertising growth contributes to News Corp's bottom line.

"When I started Fox News, everyone considered me to be an idiot, spending $1 billion," he said. "It's now worth $10 billion."

Although the Journal is locked in a deal with CNBC through 2011 forbidding Journal reporters from appearing on the new Fox Business Network, Murdoch said the paper can still contribute its coverage of politics, national and international affairs, and lifestyle news. "And we'll have that in another four years," Murdoch said.

On Tuesday, Fox Business Network added four more anchors to its roster of four other Fox News veterans.

The new hires are Peter Barnes, a former Washington D.C. correspondent for CNBC who most recently was a Washington bureau chief for Hearst-Argyle; Jenna Lee, a former news anchor and reporter for Forbes.com; Nicole Petallides from Bloomberg Television; and Cody Willard, a columnist for The Financial Times.

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