Interview, Part II: Ross Levinsohn, President, Fox Interactive Media — Portals, Timing, Inside Mov

:rosslevinsohn.jpg Read the press release announcing Fox Interactive Media and you might think the mission includes setting up a competitor to MSN, Yahoo, AOL or even Google. Watch FIM pick up a suite of internet tools and services along with hot social networking site MySpace and the temptation to say “aha” might get even stronger. But FIM president Ross Levinsohn insists it isn’t so, repeating after the MySpace/Intermix announcement, “I will promise you there is no intention to be Yahoo or MSN or AOL. We’re not a technology company, we’re a content company.” Levinsohn discussed that and more with Executive Editor Staci D. Kramer over the course of two interviews in the last few days.
The first installment dealt with plans for FIM and the News Corp. internet strategy; it was followed by an separate interview about the MySpace/Intermix deal. This is the final installment — but we’re sure it’s not the last time we’ll hear from Levinsohn and FIM.

The press release announcing FIM said “It will provide the ultimate home base for users’ news, information, entertainment and community needs.” That looks awfully close in some respects to the kind of portal already has a home on — MSN. But Levinsohn says. “I wouldn’t profess to say we’re going to do what Microsoft does. That’s really not who we are.” The MSN deal has been vital to the growth of and Levinsohn says he kept his MSN contacts in the loop as FIM was being developed.

— He keeps tabs on other companies but maintains “our competition is really ourselves. I’m not focused on anything other than making News Corp. assets better for consumers.” He adds: “One of the things Mr. Murdoch said to me was this is not about next quarter, this is about where is our company in 10 years. If we can set it up so that we’re in the right place, I think all the other things will take care of themselves.”

— One question being asked about the roll-ups at Fox and CBS is what makes them think they can succeed with content portals when it’s already been tried and failed — think Disney’s Go and NBC. What makes Fox different? “Look, the internet business is in a different place than it was five years ago. I’ve heard plenty of arguments that’s say had Go just stayed the course, they might be in a different place today but that’s not where we focused on. The business is far more mature today in that broadband is real, wireless is real. On any given day I have millions of people visiting and if you added up all our sites we have millions of people visiting our collection of sites on a daily basis. That wasn’t the case five years ago, six years ago. It is the case today. We weren’t doing seven-figure ad deals with clients six years ago and we are doing them today. There weren’t north of 100 million people online six years ago, there are today. It’s just the evolution of the business. The bubble was symptomatic of any new industry; it in some ways had to happen … it only makes brands like ours stronger because you can’t recreate what a News Corp. or a Viacom or a NBC Universal has spent 25-50 years building, You can’t replicate that over night. You can’t say I’m going to be a dominant content player, which is a very expensive proposition, and snap your fingers and have it happen.”

— Time after time, internet efforts by traditional media and entertainment companies have been stymied, even torpedoed, by internal resistance. The intense involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Peter Chernin sends the right signals from the very top but FIM still has to work across multiple constituencies. That’s one reason the executive team at FIM has representatives from sports, cable, entertainment and news. For instance, Bert Solivan moves from Fox News to be EVP. “I wouldn’t profess to tell Roger Ailes what news content should be news. … to disenfranchise him wouldn’t be taking advantage of the synergies of News Corp. We want him to feel like this is his. … It’s an extension and a continuance of what they’ve done a really nice job of doing.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking FIM encompasses all of Fox’s advanced media. For instance, Lucy Hood continues to run the recently established Fox Mobile Entertainment and report to 20th Century Fox Television president Gary Newman. But Hood doesn’t oversee all mobile across Fox. How will that work? “It doesn’t become an issue because we’re both marching down the same path and this is what Mr. Murdoch and Peter want. We’re smart enough to know we’re not going to screw that up over territorial things. … One of the things Mr. Murdoch has said to me is you shouldn’t worry about any of this because it all goes to the same place.”

Interview, Part 1: Ross Levinsohn, President, Fox Interactive Media

News Corp.-Intermix Details: Interview, Ross Levinsohn, President, FIM

News Corp. Establishes New Internet Unit: Fox Interactive Media