News Corp pins hopes on Murdoch's right-hand man

Wall Street is buzzing with the credentials of Rupert Murdoch’s deputy, Chase Carey, to take the top job at News Corporation should the company’s founder be forced out by the phone hacking scandal.

Shareholders and media analysts regard Carey—the company’s president, chief operating officer and deputy chairperson—as an “operational counterweight” to Murdoch, whom News Corp insiders say is a man focused on squeezing as much cash as possible from the media giant’s TV shows, films and print titles. In the current climate, those attributes are highly valued.

Claire Enders, founder of media consultancy company Enders Analysis, said: “Chase Carey is thought by News Corp shareholders to be a safe pair of hands. He’s the person who shareholders interact with the most.”

The straight-talking New Yorker, who would rather watch a Yankees game with a beer in his hand than socialise with film executives or film stars, is pegged as the man most likely to take over from Murdoch.
News Corp insiders say he acts as a brake to Murdoch.

The News Corp founder has a habit of placing big corporate bets, not all of which prove successful. The Fox TV network in America and BSkyB in the United Kingdom were bold gambles that paid off while buying MySpace for £361-million in 2005 and selling it in June for less than £30-million was a disaster. Carey, a nuts and bolts man, might not have sanctioned any of those purchases.

Casey the ‘reliable’ choice
Many News Corp investors were delighted when Carey returned as Murdoch’s deputy two years ago. “They thought he was a lot less likely to overpay for vanity purchases,” said an insider. “He is the only person who doesn’t run the company for his own benefit,” said Enders.

Although Carey recently defended News Corp’s decision to buy Shine, the production company founded by Murdoch’s second daughter, Elisabeth, he didn’t sound particularly convincing when he did so.

A willingness to indulge Murdoch’s habit of buying companies on a whim is a prerequisite for anyone who acquires News Corp shares, but the company’s stock has fallen by more than 10% since the scandal broke, until the announcement on Tuesday that News Corp would buy back $5-billion of shares.

One shareholder, Yacktman, publicly expressed its desire for Carey, rather than James Murdoch, when the founder stepped down. “We would be thrilled if Chase Carey became successor,” said Yacktman’s vice-president, Jason Subotky.

A firm businessman, Carey (57) worked at Colombia Pictures after graduating from Harvard Business School, doing deals with fledgling cable TV networks including HBO, who needed films to lure customers.

He is in his second stint at News Corp after overhauling Fox and turning it into a successful proposition that challenged the big three United States networks.

He was appointed chief executive of DirecTV, Murdoch’s US satellite network, which has since been sold, in 2003 and added several million subscribers. When he returned to News Corp, Murdoch described him as: “One of my closest advisers and friends for years”.

Last year his salary and bonuses topped £16-million but he is not a Murdoch, which makes his chances of becoming chairperson remote.

Trusts controlled by the Murdoch family own 12% of News Corp but close to 40% of the voting rights and Murdoch’s allies, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, control a further 10%.

Like his boss, Carey stays in Europe but while Murdoch battles to contain the phone hacking affair in London, Carey is in Germany for a meeting of Sky Deutschland, the Murdoch-controlled pay TV company he chairs.

Soft contender
James Murdoch, who was confirmed as Carey’s deputy in March has yet to move to News Corp’s head offices in New York.

He is well-known in London but is an unfamiliar figure on Wall Street which has looked on in horror at the way the hacking scandal has been handled by the company’s London-based executives.

Enders said it is not impossible that Carey could end up running the company but remains unlikely. “The share buyback has steadied the stock but the Murdoch’s just don’t get it [the scale of the hacking crisis], so we’ll see”.—

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