New York -- News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch added fuel to speculation that its 38% controlling stake in DirecTV Group could be a bargaining chip in its negotiations to buy back News Corp. voting shares owned by Liberty Media, telling an audience at an investor conference here that any deal involving the satellite giant would have to protect News Corp.'s existing content deals.
Last week, several published reports said that News Corp. may be willing to give up its interest in DirecTV in exchange for Liberty’s 19% voting stake in News Corp. News Corp. has been trying to buy back that stake -- second only to the Murdoch family -- for nearly two years.
“We are in active [negotiations], more active negotiations than before,” Murdoch told the audience at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Tuesday. “I don’t want to get into what assets we’re talking about there. If DirecTV was to be involved at all, we would certainly be protecting ourselves for the future with that. We’re very proud of what we’ve done with DirecTV.”
Asked if by protection, he meant favorable treatment on affiliate-fee increases and setting a high bar as far as new channel launches, Murdoch said, “That would be the ultimate." But he added that News Corp. channels don’t currently receive favorable treatment from DirecTV.
“You must remember that we only have 38%,” Murdoch added. “It’s got a very tough management and although a lot of them come from us, they see themselves as serving all of the shareholders of DirecTV, so we don’t get any particular favored treatment. There are friendly relations, but we don’t get any favored treatment.”