Say what you will about News Corp.'s news properties. Perhaps you fret that Fox News has a bias to the Republicans, or that the New York Post is too sensationalist for your central nervous system.
Me? I think company chief Rupert Murdoch is a marketing genius.
With the news Tuesday of a dramatic, unsolicited bid to acquire Dow Jones & Co. for $60 a share, Murdoch has created a tremendous amount of excitement. Since brand awareness means everything these days in the media, News Corp.'s coming business channel just got a supersonic promotional push. It's slated to appear in the fall.
This is a glorious time to be writing about the media, you know. The events on Tuesday added plenty of intrigue; there is now a new war of the worlds in the media universe. It's being contested by two superpowers, News Corp., which owns Fox, and General Electric Co. , which controls CNBC.
Whatever the outcome in his Dow Jones takeover bid, Murdoch has seized the upper hand in publicity. He has everyone talking about News Corp. and Fox, which can only enhance the prospects for his financial-news network.
It's too soon to tell how Murdoch's quest is going to shake out. At the very least, Murdoch's interest confirms that blue-chip assets such as Dow Jones' jewel, the Wall Street Journal, are still worth a hell of a lot, even in a digital age. The so-called old media can have plenty of kick left. Content continues to be a key driver. Dow Jones' holdings include Barron's and MarketWatch, the publisher of this column.
Speaking on Neil Cavuto's show on Fox, Murdoch said Tuesday that the Wall Street Journal is the "greatest newspaper" in America. He praised its "great journalists" and "great management."
In terms of prestige, Dow Jones is "truly beachfront property," chimed in former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch, also appearing on Cavuto's show.
Can Murdoch succeed and get this deal done? "I'd put my money on him," Welch said.
Dow Jones said Tuesday that the Bancroft family, which controls more than half of the company's voting stock, will turn down News Corp.'s $5 billion offer. The Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, which represents many Dow Jones employees, also said that it opposes the bid.
Sure, the future of Dow Jones is story today. Still, I'm intrigued by what a company like Dow Jones could mean to Fox's business channel.
The venture is a big risk. CNBC is a powerhouse, and it serves a loyal audience. Does America actually need another business network? Fox will try hard to prove it does.
TV shows and networks ultimately succeed because they can create a buzz. If Fox's promotional maestros managed to make "American Idol" a pop-culture touchstone, don't you think they could add some appeal to their business-news network too?
News Corp. loves — and needs — good press. It helps them chip away at CNBC, Fox's newest rival. Fox executives have snickered for years that CNBC is vulnerable because it's too staid, too dull, too rooted to withstand a charge by Fox.
While print-journalism fogies will no doubt worry for their time-honored traditions, News Corp. execs probably view their proposed takeover as a fact of life in the unsentimental, technology-driven, new-media world. They can't wait to leverage a product as respected and coveted as the Wall Street Journal, making bets on increasing the franchise's value.
The young, hip consumers that News Corp. and Dow Jones crave — the ones other media concerns and advertisers also want — crave cheap, as in free, information or entertainment wherever they can find it.
This generation of consumers isn't much tied to the past. That's why the evening news programs have a much smaller audience than Walter Cronkite's broadcast did many years ago. Time and Newsweek still do fine work, but their growth prospects are most prominent online.
The buzzwords today in the media industry are satellite, streaming video, broadband, TiVo, games, mobile content and wireless communications. They all add up to a desire for instant access.
News Corp created a lot of excitement Tuesday. It offered lots of promise. Now comes the hard part: Murdoch has to get the deal done and make it work.
If nothing else, he created a big marketing buzz for his new TV venture and turned up the heat on CNBC. For someone who understands marketing as well as Murdoch does, that alone must make him a happy mogul.
By Jon Friedman