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By Michael Smith
ADELAIDE, Australia, Nov 13 (Reuters) - News Corp NWSa.N Chairman Rupert Murdoch said on Tuesday the company had made a strong start to the second quarter with the global credit market squeeze so far not having much affect on forward advertising.
The media mogul also said he was also planning to boost the numbers of subscribers to the Wall Street Journal’s Web site more than tenfold by making access free.
“We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having 1 million (subscribers) having at least 10-15 million in every corner of the earth,” the 76-year-old told a shareholder meeting in the Australian city where the global media group was founded.
Murdoch said News Corp’s film division, its expanding online businesses and its acquisition of the Wall Street Journal would drive future growth.
“So far this quarter, and we are only halfway through, we are going very well and very strongly,” he said.
News Corp, which owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio and MySpace Internet social network, expects to close a deal to buy Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co Inc DJ.N for $5.6 billion next month.
“Digital is the great revolution we are facing,” Murdoch declared in announcing he expected to make subscriber-based Web site free.
Murdoch, who said in September he would like to end the WSJ.com subscription fee, has rejected criticism from analysts who have said a free site could be risky because WSJ.com is one of the few news Web sites that attracts paying customers.
Making it free would follow the decision of several other news Web sites to stop charging for some content. The Financial Times Web site now allows readers to get up to 30 articles a month for free, while The New York Times also stopped charging for access to regular columnists’ contributions as well as other articles.
Murdoch reiterated News Corp’s Internet division was expected to reap $1 billion in revenues this year.
News Corp last week reaffirmed forecasts for low-teens percentage growth in fiscal 2008 operating profit growth despite a solid first quarter, saying it could face a tough economic climate next year.
“We are running ahead of that but it is too early to change the guidance,” Murdoch told the meeting.
Murdoch, who owns about 30 percent of News Corp, said there had been no impact on forward advertising so far from the subprime mortgage crisis, but warned there could be more shocks to come.
“I personally think you are going to see quite a few more shocks, particularly in Europe, and they are going to spread around the world,” he said.
“We have been through a tremendous amount of loose money and lending and we are going to see that come to roost.”
Murdoch said the firm had just completed selling free-to-air television advertising for the U.S. Super Bowl at “quite phenomenal” rates.
He said News Corp’s recently launched Fox Business Network hoped to attract 45 million subscribers next year, up from 40 million forecast previously.
Aiming to repeat the success of the Fox News Channel, which unseated CNN as the top cable news network four years after its launch, Fox Business is part of Murdoch’s ambitions to build a global financial media powerhouse in print, the Internet and TV.
He said News Corp’s movie studio, a key driver of earnings, was looking good.
“We budgeted to do a little less this year. We have already caught that deficit up. It is very risky to predetermine the outcome of films we release but it is looking extremely good.”
Murdoch refused to be drawn on the upcoming Australian election and said he had no current interest in buying an Australian free-to-air television network. He said Ten Network Holdings Ltd TEN.AX, recently up for sale, was overvalued.
Asked when he expected to retire, Murdoch replied with his traditional: “Whenever they carry me out.” (Additional reporting by Marie McInerney & Robert MacMillan in NEW YORK; Editing by James Thornhill & Lincoln Feast) ($1=A$1.13)