It’s hard to know whether to loathe or admire Rupert Murdoch. One day his business acumen takes your breathe away and the next his journalistic standards leave you gasping with horror.

Today it’s a bouquet after the world’s longest serving chief executive once again held court during his quarterly conference call with analysts and journalists. It was a virtuoso performance from the Sun King who had just spent a few days in India and was beamed in from Beijing.

For an insight into global business, media and technology, it really is worth having a listen to the 62-minute discussion here.

The overall numbers were impressive, with net profit up 21% to a record $US5.4 billion, the fifth straight improvement since the record $12 billion loss in 2001-02.

Yet Rupert was clearly exasperated with the depressed News Corp share price, twice telling analysts asking about buybacks to instead advise their clients to buy the stock.

News Corp shares jumped 62c to $16.72 in line with the stronger market this morning but would have done better with a big buyback announcement or a decent dividend, rather than the typically parsimonious US6c final payout despite supposedly clocking up $US1.82 in earnings per share over the year.

The $6 billion on Dow Jones takeover, which cemented News Corp as the world’s biggest newspaper company, has clearly played on sentiment so the division has been rebranded “newspapers and information services” and Rupert stressed that more than half of Dow Jones’ profits comes from its digital platforms, which includes the 1.1 million subscribers who will soon be copping a price rise.

The divisional break-down again showed the enormous strength of Sky Italia, where operating income soared to $US419 million for the year and penetration is still only 20%, compared with 55% in Britain. In terms of great business moves over the years, Sky Italia is now up there with BSkyB, The Sun and Fox News.

The film division continued to star and has now delivered seven straight years of profit growth. Chief operating officer Peter Chernin claimed the next 18 months was its “best ever slate” with the November release of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia the first film he cited.

Here are a few other favourite vignettes from today’s discussion:

  • Rupert has personally driven the decision to sell the successful Russian outdoor advertising business because, based on what is happening to other foreign investors, he’s worried it would be “stolen”.
  • MySpace home page takeover advertising is soaring and Batman Darkness generated 70 million streams, 27% of which were watched in full.
  • The video on demand joint venture with NBC is booming with a staggering 88 million streams in June. Chernin said it is more profitable than video rentals and has dramatically reduced the showing of re-runs on television.

All up, you can only marvel at the empire built by the most remarkable Australian of all over the past 55 years.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey