Murdoch touts Fox as top network


LOS ANGELES -- The morning after the demise of the CBS-QVC merger, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Inc., trumpeted Fox Broadcasting's strides in the television industry and derided the programming of CBS as "getting pretty tired."

While CBS remains the ratings leader in prime time, the network "needs a more expansionary business view," Mr. Murdoch said. "They have real problems on their program schedule."

Though the Fox network is in fourth place in the ratings, Mr. Murdoch contended that it had achieved parity with CBS, ABC and NBC, citing as evidence the increased payments he said those networks were making to their affiliated stations to keep them from fleeing to Fox.

"We've made great strides; we're taking bold steps," Mr. Murdoch said at a news conference at an annual gathering of television critics and reporters in Los Angeles yesterday. "We're not just a fourth network. We're the leading network in America."

It was Mr. Murdoch's first meeting with reporters since Fox last week announced the resignation of Lucie Salhany, chairwoman of Fox Broadcasting, and the promotion of Chase Carey as chairman of Fox's newly formed television division.

Mr. Murdoch, who is chairman of Fox's parent, News Corp., also implied strongly that he would be taking a more direct role in running the Fox network and that he would be aided primarily by the Fox executives who engineered two recent moves: the addition of 12 affiliates, eight of them from CBS, through an investment in New World Communications, and the acquisition of rights to broadcast National Football League games beginning this fall.

Fox's gains, of course, were losses for CBS.

Standing bathed in purplish light on a ballroom stage in the Universal Hilton hotel, Mr. Murdoch introduced Mr. Carey, 40, as "the principal strategist behind the acquisition of football and affiliation with New World."

Asked if Fox would lose $100 million, as predicted by some industry executives, by paying nearly $400 million a year for the NFL rights, Mr. Murdoch contended that strong advertising sales would enable the network to break even on its coverage.

He also said Fox, which expanded to a seven-days-a-week schedule in prime time last year, had no intention to expand beyond its current 15 hours a week of prime-time programming. The other networks offer 22 hours in prime time.

He said he felt no need to match the other networks' morning or early evening news broadcasts because "people don't watch them much."

He added that Fox was more interested in strengthening local news broadcasts.

"People prefer to watch news edited for them in their community. Local newspapers sell a lot more than national newspapers."

Mr. Murdoch said he remained in the market for new and stronger affiliates, beyond those added through the New World deal.

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