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Seth Green - "Family Guide" Tv Series - 20th Century Fox acknowledges the Internet

Jill Goldsmith

Wednesday 7 December 2005, by isa

Web fuels Fox fanfare

Sales soar due to aggressive acquisitions, stellar growth

News Corp. is touting its Internet presence ... again.

Conglom’s newly minted Fox Interactive Media sees sales soaring to $300 million in fiscal 2006 from less than $50 million last year.

Prediction comes after aggressive acquisitions and stellar growth at red-hot properties like MySpace.com, said Ross Levinsohn, prexy of the new unit that Rupert Murdoch forged in a mere six months with $1.2 billion in deals.

"Scale is critical," Levinsohn told investors at the UBS media conference in Gotham — his first public presentation. "We’re the next generation of growth for News Corp."

He said 20th Century Fox Television, which pioneered the "mobisode" (shorts of hit series "24" for cell phones) will be producing mini episodes of "The Family Guy" for the Internet in ’06.

Also in ’06, the Fox movie studio will start offering pics for download to its Direct Connect site on recently acquired IGN. Fox movies are now available on services Movielink and CinemaNow.

The centerpiece of News Corp.’s Netco is MySpace, a virtual stamping ground for ages 14-34, with 40 million registered users; it’s added 16 million since News Corp. bought it last summer for $580 million. The latest cover of Business Week touted "The MySpace Generation." "It’s akin to what the mall was to my generation," Levinsohn said.

Some on Wall Street fretted that News Corp. had overpaid. "If we keep pacing the way we’re pacing, people will think we got a steal," he said.

Videogame and movie Web giant IGN cost $650 million. Scout, which aggregates some 200 sports sites, cost $60 million.

Levinsohn basically scoffed at efforts by rival Netcos like Yahoo! to create their own content. "To put a few thousand people in a room in Santa Monica doesn’t make you a media company overnight," he said. Fox has "50 years of storytelling history."

News Corp. chairman-CEO Murdoch has earmarked $2 billion for Net deals, meaning Fox Interactive still has some powder. But Levinsohn said the focus is on integrating and operating what’s there now.

International expansion is coming, with local versions of MySpace debuting in the U.K. and Australia first, followed by Hong Kong and China.

Music, a critical component of MySpace, has sparked a deal with "American Idol" and the launch of new label MySpace Records.

In a unique feature aimed at keeping and growing users, MySpace will let them profit from the relationship. If a subscriber named Gary (whose homepage Levinsohn highlighted) downloads an episode of "The OC" for $1.99, for instance, another user can buy it directly from Gary’s MySpace site, and Gary will share the revenue, Levinsohn said.

He said IGN’s in talks with leading videogame producers to let folks buy and download new games online the same time they appear in stores.

News Corp. also has expressed interest in Internet paid searches. Levinsohn said the unit is considering either buying or partnering. It’s talked to five companies, including Yahoo! and Google.