Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra, recently promoted to head Fox’s entire TV division, talks about how the TV side of the News Corp reorganization has been going, the fate of the broadcast networks, and what Rupert Murdoch’s really like. Below are edited excerpts from his rare interview with Broadcasting & Cable:
How did they tell you about the re-org, and how involved were you in coming up with the new structure?
Not very. Rupert told me a couple of weeks, or three weeks ago, that Peter [Chernin] was not going to be extending his contract. And he wanted me to play a role in the company going forward; some of it was still to be determined, but he wanted to create a structure where he would have five or six people actually managing the businesses and he wanted me to be one of those people…We had several conversations over the weeks prior about which businesses would best work together, and this is what we ended up with…
What are the first things you need to do given your new responsibilities?
There’s really not a lot for me to do at the broadcast network, I’m not going to micromanage it. We have terrific people there. Kevin Reilly will continue to run the development team, which is very well established. Peter Rice obviously has to get up to speed. I’ll probably spend most of my time with Peter helping him get up to speed, and I’m sure he’ll do that fast because he’s a smart guy and gets the overall business. He really asks all the right questions. On the other pieces, the international channels, I was already doing some of that with National Geographic. I need to get to know the people in that group much better. There’s 170 channels around the world. So that’s the biggest ramp-up for me.
What will it be like now reporting to Rupert Murdoch instead of Peter Chernin?
Peter and I had a long-standing relationship, and I cherish it. Now it will be different.
Rupert is in New York, he’s not here [in Los Angeles]. So I’m going to have to be spending a lot more time in New York. And he has other demands. Peter was able to focus more on the businesses that I was involved with; [Murdoch is] not going to be able to focus as much just because of the demands on his time. I’m also looking forward to sitting in a room with Rupert a lot more frequently. He’s a genius who has done amazing things, and it’s going to be exciting to sit there with a professor like Rupert…
Chernin is staying very involved?
He’s a remarkably responsible person, so I know he wants to make sure all goes well. He has said to me whatever help or guidance I need or questions I have, don’t hesitate to ask him. He wants to remain involved. And he’s going to be involved once he’s gone because he has the production deal at the studio…
How are you bringing [Peter Rice] up to speed?
By attaching the fire hose to his mouth. I’ve had a number of meetings with him already. He’s met with all the staff…he’s got the budget books and the strategic planning materials, and I’m sure he’s getting meeting requests. The agents I’m sure are all over him trying to set up time to visit. And we’ll meet a couple of times a week for the next little while along with Chernin, who will also help get him up to speed…
Ratings on Fox were down in its core demo before American Idol came back. Are you concerned?
It’s a worry. All the networks are down this year for whatever reason. But yeah, we’re concerned about it. But it’s not that big a surprise to anyone because 10 years ago the average household had about 50 channels to watch. Now there are 120, so it’s not surprising that the ratings are down. But on the other hand, advertisers are very aware that they need to work with us to have the reach to launch products and market products, and we’re very aware of that as well. So we’re doing everything we can to figure out what consumers are looking for and develop more hit products and more hit programs, and we’ll draw more viewers to us again.
One of your counterparts says the broadcast-network TV model is dying; another says everything is sunny. Where do you come down on that?
I don’t think it’s dying. I think it’s under great stress. I think there are lots of issues that need to be dealt with, but there are several roads to keeping it viable as far as I can see into the future. But certainly there are issues. Going from 50 channels to 120 channels is a big enough issue on its own…
Is now a time to be bold or conservative?
Everybody talks about how you get into the recession and you’ve got to do things differently. I don’t think that is the answer. I think the answer, having been through a number of these things, is yes, you try to find ways to bring other advertising genres to the medium, you try to find ways to produce programming a little better, but you don’t change the tires on the car while it’s moving down the road. You try to do what you’re doing much better than your competition. You should be bold on some things, but not on all of them…
- Rupert Murdoch is extremely “collegial and respectful of your time”: “He’ll walk in my office and I’ll be on the phone, and he’ll say, ‘Hey, would you mind calling me when you’re off?’ Many people would just walk in and sit there. He’s very respectful of what you’re doing. He’s a very different person than what you see out there.”
- As far as Vinciquerra knows there will be no direct successor to Chernin right now. In fact, Vinciquerra doesn’t think anyone will move into Chernin’s old office until Murdoch decides someone can.
- He thinks this year’s upfronts will be “ok” but not “robust.” NBC will be helping, he says, by taking five hours off the schedule with their 10 o’clock Jay Leno show.
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