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Special Report: 12 to Watch Peter Chernin

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Peter Chernin believes the media revolution will be digitized.

He’s bent on making sure that each of the far-flung and varied outposts of the media empire he supervises as president and chief operating officer of News Corp. can imagine, dominate and monetize every possible platform.

Like News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Chernin sees new media as the next source of revenue.

While there is still much to learn about just what kind of content consumers want, which of the new distribution alternatives they prefer and how much they are willing to pay, Mr. Chernin has made new media an integral part of Fox’s business models.

Fox Interactive Media is the umbrella for the Internet businesses, the flashiest of which is MySpace, the leading social network and now promotional platform, which was bought by News Corp. in July 2005.

Fox Digital makes product available in new media formats.

Fox Mobile Entertainment plunked down $188 million in September 2006 for a controlling interest in direct-to-consumer mobile portal Jamba, around which it merged its other mobile efforts.

Mr. Chernin predicted earlier this month that News Corp. would exceed its $500 million goal for digital revenues in the current fiscal year.

Success in all these areas is inextricably bound up with copyright protection, and Mr. Chernin has taken a leadership position in the war on piracy.

Despite his intense focus on the digital domain of late, Mr. Chernin is “a creative at heart. That’s where he likes to go,” said Tony Vinciquerra, Fox Networks Group president and CEO. He said Mr. Chernin takes seriously the challenge of running a company the size and complexity of the global News Corp. and maintaining an environment in which creatives can do their best work without being undermined by a big-company structure.

Mr. Chernin started his ascent in the corporate world as an associate publicity director at St. Martin’s Press. He would hold executive positions in premium cable programming and marketing and at independent studios before being named Fox Broadcasting Entertainment president in 1989. Three years later he became chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

In 1996 he became Mr. Murdoch’s No. 2 executive, but the sense that Mr. Chernin was a place holder for a Murdoch scion made him the frequent subject of industry buzz about big jobs at The Walt Disney Co. and the like.

Since Mr. Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, left the company in mid-2005 and returned to Australia, Mr. Chernin has seemed less restive but no less enthusiastic about the challenges facing his executive phalanx-from the struggles of MyNetworkTV and the annual slow start to the Fox Broadcasting TV season to the topsy-turvy growth of Fox cable channels and the vicissitudes of TV and film production and studios, not to mention an increasingly potent but still money-losing New York Post.

“I think Peter is feeling satisfaction at seeing the vision come to fruition even at this stage and knowing there’s more work to do,” said Chris Albrecht, chairman and CEO of HBO. “It’s an exciting time and I think he’s feeling, as he should, not just energized but calm about the task in front of him.”

“I admire no one more,” the HBO executive said.

Friends and colleagues say Mr. Chernin is uniquely qualified .

“The remarkable thing about Peter is he’s got both right brain and left brain, and I think they’ve both developed to the same point,” Mr. Vinciquerra said. “He’s equally adept at talking about the issues and opportunities in a pilot as he is discussing the business plan for a new cable channel and planning Fox’s future in the digital world.”

Mr. Chernin is not all work. He and wife Megan, who have three young adult children, find a lot of time for charitable causes. The first time Mr. Albrecht and Mr. Chernin spent time together socially, some 15 years ago, they jumped horses.

Since then, Mr. Albrecht has enjoyed Mr. Chernin’s hospitality at the family home on Martha’s Vineyard. The first-timer tradition is best enjoyed after the test has been passed.

“You have to first climb up the rock by rope and dive off the far end into the deep water and then, without an inflation tube, hold on behind a motorized raft on your back through the waters off Martha’s Vineyard. Once you pass this test of basic training you are then able to get dressed for dinner,” he said. “The Chernins are not laughing at you. The whole family is jumping and pulling and floating.

“I got up the rope with not a lot of difficulty, although it took several days for the skin to grow back on my hands. I then had momentary panic when I realized how high it was. I thought I did an extremely good job of being pulled behind the boat on my back with no raft and do feel at this point that I impressed the Chernins.”

More than one close observer said Mr. Chernin, a loyal Democratic contributor, brings out the best in those around him. Some even note the signs of respect, perhaps even affection, from the famously conservative Mr. Murdoch.