Don’t Blow It, Rupe (NWS)


News Corp (NWS) chairman Rupert Murdoch is in Los Angeles this week as a part of what’s officially being called a normal review of the company’s West Coast operations.

But COO Peter Chernin’s contract expires June 30 and there’s worry on Wall Street and among Fox executives that Rupe’s actually in town because negotiations to renew Peter’s contract have stalled.

The L.A. Times reports sources in and outside of the company read deeply into the tone of last week’s News Corp earnings call:

A week ago, during a conference call with analysts to discuss earnings, Chernin played a less prominent role than he had in the past. Murdoch dominated the call, fielding questions about the entertainment properties that have long been Chernin’s specialty.

Then there was the prickly question about his contract.

During November’s earnings call, when Murdoch and Chernin were asked to characterise the negotiations, Chernin called them “constructive.” Murdoch jumped in: “I would characterise them as constructive and friendly.”

But last week, the same question prompted a measured response. “Peter and I are continuing our conversations, and they’re private and that is all there is to it,” Murdoch said. “Nothing more for me to say and we won’t take any further questions on that. It is a confidential matter.”

Chernin remained silent.

With News Corp’s stock 65% off its 52-week high and no clear succession plan in place for when the 77-year-old Rupert retires, re-signing Peter has to get done. Probably it will, but not without drama. Last time Peter’s contract came up for renewal, he and Rupe waited till three days before it expired to announce a new one.