Fox Takes On ESPN

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Already dominant in regional sports channels, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch wants to start a new national sports network that would tackle ESPN. "We'd like to very much," Murdoch told investors at Goldman Sachs' annual Communicopia conference in New York Tuesday.

Murdoch also acknowledged that Fox News will start two new networks in relatively short order, one business news network, one focused on entertainment news. 'That's a no brainier. We're getting on with that." The company already has a college sports network and a reality network ready to launch.

Nodding to the roughly $1 billion in operating cash flow Disney sees from ESPN, Murdoch added "We'd certainly like the profit."

Murdoch has been hungry for new networks now that he has control of DirecTV and can readily use the DBS service to secure the first 13 million subscribers.

Currently, News Corp.'s national sports networks are limited to relatively minor sports (e.g., Speedvision or extreme sports startup Fuel). But on the regional level, Fox Sports controls pro baseball and basketball rights in markets like Los Angeles and New York. And Fox's broadcast network licenses national NFL and NBA rights.

But taking on ESPN would require national cable rights, which would be a slow, expensive process since ESPN already has everything but NASCAR locked up.

Murdoch would likely spark a bidding war for rights that are already a stiff loss-leader for most TV buyers. And Murdoch acknowledges that challenging ESPN would require football. "I don't think you could do it without the NFL franchise in there."

Murdoch's control of DBS leader DirecTV give him some immediate distribution, but he, of course, would need more. Murdoch said that he could readily get a cable operator in as a partner.

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