The elder Murdoch was speaking at News Corp’s 2023 annual general meeting on Wednesday, his last as co-chairman of the Times, Wall Street Journal and Sun parent company. He has now become chairman emeritus.
The 92-year-old mogul announced the end of his tenure in September. He will also be stepping down as chairman of Fox Corporation, which publishes Fox News, on Friday.
What did Rupert Murdoch say as he stepped down from News Corp?
Noting the prior three years had been News Corp’s most profitable, Rupert Murdoch told investors he was “confident that the best is yet to come”.
The 2023 AGM marked ten years since News Corp was reorganised to split it from what is now 21st Century Fox, and Murdoch said the decade had seen “a trajectory of positive transformation, one that has made the company stronger and more prosperous”.
He made some brief political comments, criticising “the barbaric attack on Israel and the ensuing tragedies in the region” and “the suppression of debate by an intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema”.
But he added: “My life has certainly been fortunate.”
Maintaining that he hopes “to continue an active role in the company”, Murdoch called Lachlan “a principled leader, and a believer in the social purpose of journalism…
“Like my father, I believe that humanity has a ‘high destiny’, and Lachlan certainly shares that belief. That sense of destiny is not just a blessing but a responsibility.”
Positive noises on payments from AI companies for News Corp content
Murdoch attributed some of the company’s success in recent years to its “digital development”, which he said “has enabled us to expand the delivery of news, analysis, books and real estate intelligence.
“In an era of generative AI, those businesses will surely grow.”
Murdoch said News Corp was “already playing a leading role in the important debate over the value of our original content for AI providers and are engaged in advanced negotiations with key partners”.
Speaking after Murdoch this point was picked up by News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson, who said: “It is reassuring that the prescient executives at the largest AI companies understand that gen AI cannot be degenerative, that the recomposition of content cannot lead to the decomposition of creativity.”
He also praised Lachlan Murdoch, calling him “a leader of genuine principle whose commitment to the cause of the company and to social improvement is patently obvious to all who have the privilege of working alongside him”.
And to the departing Rupert Murdoch, he said: “On behalf of all employees at News Corp, I want to express our sincere appreciation for all that you have achieved for News Corp, for journalism and for the societies in which we operate.”
Robert Thomson gives update on ten years since ‘reincarnation’ of News Corp
Thomson’s speech to investors gave a window into how the make up of News Corp’s business has changed over the decade since it was “reincarnated”.
A shift toward digital growth, Thomson said, had created “higher margins, far larger free cash flow and sterling prospects for long-term growth”.
He said that in the 2014 fiscal year, the company’s news and information services had accounted for 72% of total revenues. In the 2023 fiscal year, he said, “news media was 23%, and the revitalised Dow Jones segment was 22%”. (The Dow Jones segment had previously been organised as part of the news and information segment.)
Digital real estate had grown over the same period from 5% of revenues to 15%, and “print-related advertising was 39%… and that figure is now below 5%”.
And Dow Jones, which News Corp acquired in 2007, doubled its profitability over the past four years and was this year “the highest contributor to profits across News Corp” for the first time.
Thomson said that in 2023 the New York Post, News Corp’s US tabloid newspaper, recorded “a second successive year of strong profits, after decades of losses”.
In the UK, he said The Sun – the carrying value of which was famously written down to zero in 2021 – had “a successful year, with digital advertising outpacing print, and year-over-year express growth of The Sun in the US, which has even higher yields than the legendary UK site”.
The Sun has struggled in recent years to turn a profit, owing in large part to the high cost of phone hacking settlements. But Sun publisher Dominic Carter told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology conference in September: “At an operating level, The Sun is a very profitable business and growing.”
Rupert Murdoch’s closing statement to News Corp AGM in full:
“Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the 2023 annual meeting of stockholders.
“Over the decade since News Corp was reborn, we have been on a trajectory of positive transformation, one that has made the company stronger and more prosperous, and given us a robust platform for future growth.
“Our last three years have been our most profitable despite the complications of higher interest rates and economic uncertainty, and I am confident that the best is yet to come.
“Our digital development has enabled us to expand the delivery of news, analysis, books and real estate intelligence. In an era of generative AI, those businesses will surely grow, and I can assure you that our teams are absolutely focused on both the opportunities and the challenges.
“We are already playing a leading role in the important debate over the value of our original content for AI providers and are engaged in advanced negotiations with key partners.
“The world is facing multiple international crises that demand attention and understanding. After the barbaric attack on Israel and the ensuing tragedies in the region, the rise of virulent anti-Semitism should be of serious concern to all thoughtful people.
“I would like to pay tribute to our reporters in the Middle East and Ukraine who are taking risks every day. I also want to highlight the case of Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, who remains unfairly imprisoned in Russia for simply doing his job. And we are grateful for the efforts of all who have been working ceaselessly to secure his release.
“As you know, I am moving to the role of chairman emeritus, and Lachlan will become the sole chair of News Corp. Lachlan is a principled leader, and a believer in the social purpose of journalism. I hope to continue an active role in the company.
“There is no doubt that we should all be concerned about the suppression of debate by an intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema.
“My life has certainly been fortunate. We are blessed to live in a country where dreams are not yet subject to regulation. There are so many inspiring stories around us of those who have created much social good from humble beginnings.
“Like my father, I believe that humanity has a ‘high destiny’, and Lachlan certainly shares that belief. That sense of destiny is not just a blessing but a responsibility.
“I will now turn to our chief executive, Robert Thomson. Thank you, Robert.”
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