News Corp is pleased with the circulation and advertising revenue of its Australian publications, the company’s chief financial officer Bedi Singh told a media conference in San Francisco this week.
Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Mr Singh also told the audience News Corp was happy with the success of its website paywalls.
“We believe that the product is so strong that people must be prepared to pay for that content,” he said.
He cited The Sun, which has 225,000 paid digital subscribers in Britain, while its competitors do not have paywalls at all.
It’s too early to judge the success of the paywalls around News Corp’s Australian mastheads, but “they’re much more local news-focused [than news.com.au] so you’d expect that people should have a propensity to pay for those,” he said.
Mr Singh paid particular attention to Australian newspapers in his talk, saying the long-term fall in advertising revenue had slowed.
“[Australia has] been the plank in the fence there … we’re very happy with the stabilising of the decline there,” he said.
Overseas, he said, “advertising remains soft, it’s definitely challenged, but we’re working on ways to see how we can get momentum back”, particularly in the UK.
“Generally there is a market malaise amongst the grocers. They are just not advertising across the board.”
A key theme in his presentation was the strong performance of high-end titles like The Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“We’ve seen very strong growth at The Times, we’ve seen physical subs pick up … and so the quality newspapers I think circulation is fine across all our geographies.”
“The mass market papers remain a little challenging, I would say particularly in the UK where with The Sun we’re seeing declines in physical, although we are seeing uptake in the digital subscription base.”
“So I think there’s a distinction emerging between the quality end of our newspapers around the world, which is growing, and the mass market where the jury’s still out and we’re experimenting and seeing how things go,” Mr Singh said.
He also raised the prospect of a share buyback program. Fairfax recently announced a similar step in its half-yearly results announcement last month.
“The time is approaching for there to be a more meaningful discussion around capital returns,” Mr Singh said.
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