Boom times at Sky but Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal hits problems in China

British pay-TV broadcaster Sky, 39.1 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, almost doubled its profits in the third quarter of 2010 from £128m in 2009 to £228m. Stripping out exceptionals the numbers were £255m against £204m, still 25 per cent up. New subscribers rose 15 per cent to 96,000 in the quarter and existing customers spent more too, £514 annually against £469.

You don’t get much better than that although Murdoch, who was in London yesterday to deliver the inaugural Margaret Thatcher lecture at right wing think tank The Centre for Policy Studies, may reflect ruefully that this will probably put the Sky price up, should he decide to proceed with his £8bn or so bid to buy the rest of it.

Not such good news was the mysterious disappearance of his Wall Street Journal’s Chinese-language website last week. This, and the Financial Times’ version which also slid from view, had carried a report about a group of former Communist Party leaders who had written an open letter opposing media censorship in China.

So both sites were promptly censored and have yet to reappear. No idea about the whereabouts of the intrepid letter writers.

The Chinese government seems none too keen on foreign media owners, it’s been feuding with Google for years now to the detriment of the search giant’s business in China. Murdoch himself made great efforts to establish his Asian TV business in China but gave up the ghost earlier this year.

So what did Rupert have to say to his Thatcher Lecture audience?

Most of it was a paean of praise for the former Iron Lady, currently hospitalised with flu. But he did touch on a couple of issues obliquely, one being the phone hacking scandal at his News of the World, the other the opposition to his Sky bid from most of the rest of the British media, headed by old enemy the BBC.

Ref the NoW he referred to the importance of Britain’s “uniquely vigorous journalism” and the need for it to be “turbulent, inquiring, bustling and free.” Phone hacking is arguably a touch too turbulent however although he did go on to say that his organisation “would not tolerate wrongdoing.” Hmm.

On the line-up against him over Sky (it includes BT, Channel 4, Associated, the Mirror, Telegraph and Guardian as well as the Beeb) he said that when “an upstart is successful somehow the old interests surface and restrictions on growth are imposed or proposed.” The point is, he told his critics sternly, in the spirit of Mrs T no doubt, to “make the cake bigger.”

Quite so.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.