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Fox didn’t overpay for its new NFL rights, says Fox exec Peter Rice

“You either have the most-watched content on television, or you don’t have it.”

21st Century Fox Chairman and CEO Peter Rice Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Fox is spending a reported $3.3 billion for NFL football rights for Thursday night over the next five years. And while NFL ratings are declining, Fox is paying some 30 percent more per game for the rights.

Is it overpaying?

“I don’t think so,” Fox Networks CEO Peter Rice said at the Code Media conference today in California. “Any time you go to an auction, somebody wins, and everybody who loses says that the winner overpaid.”

But something is different this time, CNBC’s Julia Boorstin prodded — ratings are down, notably for the Thursday night games that Fox acquired the rights to. How does that make sense?

“You either have the most-watched content on television, or you don’t have it,” Rice said.

Fox has been spending big bucks for NFL games since 1993, Rice noted, adding that revenue from those games has helped fuel many of Fox’s businesses since — such as FX and other newer television networks — and could continue to fuel new ones in the future.

Rice also said:

  • He doesn’t know which company he’ll go to if Disney successfully buys 21st Century Fox, where he’s president.
  • Hulu — partly owned by Fox, and where Rice is on the board — has added more subscribers in the U.S. than Netflix in the last two quarters. Rice thinks it’ll have 20 million subs by the time the Disney deal closes.
  • Hulu’s over-the-top pay TV service, for Fox at least, is the fastest growing. Some subscribers are “cord nevers” who are signing up for pay TV, others are attracted to its lower price than cable. For the last quarter, over-the-top TV replacement services have “essentially wiped out any cord cutting” for Fox.
  • The broad movement against sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace — which took down several Fox News executives and personalities — is “something that’s been sort of a wakeup call for companies” and how they address these issues. Rice says Fox has been more open and is encouraging people to come forward.

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