NewsCorp is enjoying improved ad sales in America’s local TV market, according to chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Speaking at a Salomon Smith Barney investors’ conference, Murdoch revealed that the media mammoth’s local television ad revenue in December was marginally up year-on-year, with sales for the first three months of 2002 flat on the same period last year. However, weakness continues in the sports sector.

“It’s nothing to boast about yet, but we see a very real revival in advertising,” he revealed. “It’s not a totally clear indication, but if local stations are an early indicator, then I think we can be optimistic.”

However, NewsCorp is not so positive about its operations beyond America: “As for the rest of the world, I don’t see any good news yet,” Murdoch continued. “I think everything else will lag the US by 12 months or so.”

Speaking of the group’s plans for the future, the media mogul vowed that NewsCorp would be “opportunistic” in making acquisitions, but avoid hefty premiums. However, he stressed that expansion was not essential for success: “We want to make more profits. Bigness, in and of itself, does not make more profits.”

As if to illustrate that fact, Murdoch added that NewsCorp was near to a deal to offload its stake in loss-making Italian pay-TV group Stream (reportedly to Vivendi Universal [WAMN: 20-Dec-01]): “Negotiations to pull that drain off our balance sheet are almost complete.”

Murdoch also referred to his media empire’s 22% holding in the ailing pay-TV venture of Germany’s Kirch Gruppe. “We’ve not been happy [with the unit’s performance],” he declared. “We thought there was great potential there. But we’re only one voice.”

NewsCorp has an option to force Kirch to buy back the stake in October, which, so rumour has it, Murdoch will exercise in a bid to topple the debt-laden German group and move in for the takeover [WAMN: 07-Dec-01].

The NewsCorp boss let nothing slip: “We haven’t decided yet. If we see great improvements in it, we'll stay with it.”

News source: New York Times