SPIEGEL: Mr. Murdoch, how long have you been afraid of the future?
Murdoch: I am surprised you have that impression. News Corp. is an enterprise that has a real appetite for change.
SPIEGEL: In 2000 you said, "If I have to read another thing about surviving in the digital future or any angst-ridden nonsense like it, I'll shoot myself." Today you make fiery speeches about how it is getting more and more difficult for commercial enterprises to pursue journalism profitably in the Internet age. If that isn't fear…?
SPIEGEL: Still, one has become used to more self-assurance from the media giant News Corp.
Murdoch: What bothers me is that it is simply not possible to have a reasonable discussion on that issue because the public service apparatus is considered almost sacred and thus untouchable. In this debate we are always accused of one thing -- that News Corp. is only interested in profits. Yes, we are not ashamed of asking a fair price for sending journalists to Afghanistan, of making the infrastructure available to them in the field, nor of investing in their safety and security. But when competition starts getting heated up by subsidized players, it becomes difficult. After all, the question one needs to ask oneself is: Isn't it questionable for a society when public service stations attain so much power in the media market?
SPIEGEL: Yet the image of News Corp. has so far rather been that of being a ruthless opinion monopolist. You own 200 newspapers, including such powerful ones as the tabloid Sun in Great Britain and the Wall Street Journal in the US, in addition to TV channels from Sky to Fox. Wherever Murdoch turns up, indignation and fear erupt. Does this image bother you?
Murdoch: We do not worry about what is constantly being said and written about our image. What counts for us is only what readers and viewers think about us. In Italy we gained five million customers within five years for our pay TV station, in the UK it is nearly 10 million --and they all came voluntarily. We only say: this is our offer, this is a fair price. Buy it if you want. If not, then we'll just have to try harder.
SPIEGEL: On the Internet, you have, for the most part, been giving your content away so far. Your father recently announced that News Corp. would soon be demanding money for the Web sites of its newspapers. Why do you believe that you will be able to re-educate readers after all these years of free content?
Murdoch: No one has claimed that it will be easy. But we have a good chance for success because we believe our content is genuinely distinctive. However, digital journalism is more than just a Web site: there are app stores for the iPhone and the Blackberry; there are digital reading devices, whose displays have been getting better and better. Perhaps the Kindle might still not be quite ready yet, but the technology is progressing quickly. Apple will be bringing out a reader. These all provide a unique opportunity to change our business model.
SPIEGEL: You yourself once said, though, that you don't draw a distinction between bloggers and journalists. If that is the case, why should people be asked to pay for professional journalism?
Murdoch: It is not my place to distinguish between a card-carrying member of the Foreign Correspondents Club and someone who writes from home. Each customer decides what he or she would rather read. As an executive and investor, I attempt to obtain the best content and then to bundle it in a package -- and that costs money. However, I would feel very uncomfortable if the journalism profession were left to hobby writers -- that would mean it would be practiced only by the idle or the rich. The democratization of journalism via the Internet is a really good thing, but it should not lead to a situation where people are no longer paid for their creative achievements -- regardless of whether they are a blogger or a journalist.
SPIEGEL: How much does your father really still understand about your business? His biographer Michael Wolff writes that Rupert Murdoch does not like reading e-mails and that he can hardly manage to use his computer and his mobile telephone -- not exactly what one would call an Internet pioneer.
Murdoch: I can only advise you to use the word biographer cautiously. This man is now carving out a career for himself by writing about a company that he doesn't even really know. The idea that the Chairman of News Corp is disconnected from the Internet is false and moreover unfair. After all, it was my father who had a vision of what digital TV could look like -- and he has made that vision a reality with Sky.
SPIEGEL: In your youth you were the enfant terrible of the family: You quit your studies in Harvard, colored your hair blond, had a piercing and founded a hip-hop label. What remains of your rebellion today?
Murdoch: Let me answer it this way: We have always been rebellious. As a company, News Corp. was always the outsider, different from others. For example, when we moved our newspapers and the printing plant into this building here, it was not exactly in the center of the city. Also, BSkyB is not in the London city center, nor do we reside on the chic Corso in Rome. In Hong Kong, we are on the other side of the harbor. We are always the outsider, as a challenger who tries to be better and more efficient than the established players. What I want to say is this: The rebel in our family is the boss, and he's been that way since the 1950s.
SPIEGEL: You apparently see things a bit differently now than when you were in your early 20s. At that time you had no interest whatsoever in working in the company.
Murdoch: I left the university at the time because I wanted to try something entrepreneurial myself. That was great. I learned a great deal…
SPIEGEL:... and after only two years you had your father purchase your firm Rawkus Records and began working at News Corp.
Murdoch: I was lucky enough to have the chance to join this company and made use of it. But there was no deep-seated philosophical shift behind the move. In the 1990s, News Corp. was simply exciting. That was the beginning of the Internet age; we ourselves made some missteps in the Internet which was difficult. I could work in Asia…
SPIEGEL:... and it was a time during which you went through a kind of business boot camp. Ten years ago, your mother complained that in an interview with the men's magazine GQ you used the word "fuck" too often. The Economist spin-off Intelligent Life, on the other hand, recently wrote that you talked as if you had swallowed an annual report. What happened to you in the time between those two articles?
Murdoch: I find it disappointing that you dug out something that my mother said years ago. I try very hard not to use expletives. Sometimes I do not quite meet that objective, like many of us. You need to form your own impression by talking with me. I will then have to live with the consequences, just like everyone who deals with the press.
SPIEGEL: Unlike you, your brother Lachlan and your sister Elisabeth started their careers at News Corp. and have left the company in the meantime. Your are now seen as the crown prince. Is that a burden?
Murdoch: I don't follow the debate on who will be my father's successor. That is the board's decision. We have many shareholders and an independent board of directors. I'm just trying to do my job as well as possible and to meet our goals -- which are extremely ambitious. I am responsible for some of our priority markets, such as Western Europe but also India. In many countries we are still building up our business. To achieve that is hard enough and leaves no room for thinking about my own career. This is how I've always answered that question. Maybe if I keep repeating it, eventually someone will believe me.
SPIEGEL: Why is the successor question being hushed up so much? This would be an ideal moment for a generational change. The media industry is changing dramatically; your father is 78 years old…
Murdoch: … but he is extremely youthful (laughs). Seriously, we have a very strong management team. We are also well positioned strategically at the moment. And if, who knows when, the subject arises, then the board has a job to do.
SPIEGEL: How close is the relationship to your father? How often do you speak on the telephone; how frequently do you see each other?
Murdoch: We speak relatively often, at least a few times per week -- during intense periods when there is a lot to do, maybe several times per day. We are both moving around often because News Corp. is active on so many continents. But if decisions are pending, we call quickly or do a video conference.
SPIEGEL: Your father seems to trust you. Eight years ago, he spent billions on the German pay-TV broadcaster Premiere -- an investment that didn't really pay out. In the past year, you became involved again. Do you have to make amends?
Murdoch: The situation is totally different today. At that time we were minority shareholders, one of many. Now we are the largest stockholder and the other shareholders support our cause. We have a good management team there and can really get down to business.
SPIEGEL: Premiere ran losses for 18 years. Why do you believe that you can actually convince the Germans of the virtues of pay television?
Murdoch: Many things have not really been tried out in Germany. We are now bringing experience and a team with us. Of course, it's not possible to do everything exactly as we did in Great Britain or Italy -- pay-TV is not "cookie-cutter," but many things are similar.
SPIEGEL: You have already invested nearly a billion and have changed the name of Premiere to Sky Deutschland. But the only thing to have grown so far is the losses.
Murdoch: We are still very much at the beginning in Germany. One must remember where this company comes from. Just from a managerial point of view, there is a very strong story. We are turning it completely inside out, we will improve the service and spruce it up technologically; for example, we have developed seven HD channels in a very short time.
SPIEGEL: But why should Germans pay for television? There are more free channels available here than almost anywhere else.
Murdoch: When we were building up Sky Italia, we were besieged by the same concerns. And 20 years ago it was the same in the UK. There people said that the BBC was wonderful and the British were too stingy to pay extra for television. We are now making Sky Deutschland a product that people will really want to pay for.
SPIEGEL: The German investment has not yet paid off for News Corp. It is still making losses.
Murdoch: It was clear to us from the beginning that this would be difficult and that we would need time. But we will meet our goals. Our business has always been a challenge. Think about the milestones in our company history: We began in Adelaide in the 1950s against a much larger rival in the newspaper business; we built up Fox News in the US where nobody thought there was a need. Sky Deutschland is potentially going to be one of the next large milestones.
SPIEGEL: Would you be prepared to invest more money if necessary?
Murdoch: Sky Deutschland is now on a sound financial footing. Whether it needs more capital in the future remains to be seen. At the moment there are no plans for further investments.
SPIEGEL: You have developed into something of a troubleshooter at News Corp. -- someone who is summoned when something was going wrong somewhere. First you had to get the Internet business started, then pull Star TV in Hong Kong out of the red. Now Sky Deutschland. Is this the last big test?
Murdoch: Every day in life is a test. If you are not continually tested, then it would be dull. But we must remain alert.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Murdoch, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Interview conducted by Susanne Amann and Isabell Hülsen in London
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