Lawrence (“Lon”) Jacobs ’81, Senior Executive Vice President and Group General Counsel of News Corporation, was the featured speaker at the Media and Society Lecture held on October 14, 2009. In his presentation, “Saving the Media Business: A New Online Model,” Jacobs explored some of the pressing issues faced by established media companies as they deal with a turbulent economy and the intense competition posed by the Internet. The world’s second largest media conglomerate, News Corporation has a number of media holdings, including 20th Century Fox, Fox News, Dow Jones and Company, New York Post, and MySpace.
Jacobs discussed possible ways that “dead tree publishers,” as he jokingly referred to them, might be able to adapt to the new climate, as more magazines, newspapers, and local television stations lose revenue and shut down, in large part because their audiences are migrating to free online sources for information, from news to classified ads. “This is a secular rather than a cyclical shift,” said Jacobs, meaning that these current trends are not simply a temporary downturn, but signal a fundamental change in the industry.
Although poking fun at such technological jargon as “user-generated content” and “affinity advertising through interest matching technology,” Jacobs made clear that the state of the newspaper industry – not to mention the film and music industries, which are plagued by online piracy concerns – is no laughing matter. Admitting that his ideas could be considered controversial, he candidly set forth some of the obstacles, both practical and legal, to embracing a viable online model for the media industry.
One major barrier, he said, is convincing people to start paying for online access. “A lot of people think you can’t put that genie back into the bottle,” said Jacobs, “We’re going to have to test that.” He cited iTunes as a particularly successful model to emulate in charging for content. Another hurdle newspapers face, according to Jacobs, is the “free ride” problem, in which “aggregators” like Huffington Post and Google, swipe their headlines for their own websites. “Our journalists do the hard work,” he said, “and they are benefitting from our sweat.”
Meanwhile, Jacobs contends that the law has yet to evolve to the demands of the changing media landscape. For instance, Jacobs proposes that newspapers might collaborate to create a single online platform where users could get their news from several sources, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and their local newspaper, as well as customize a special package of, say, sports coverage, all at a discounted price. Current antitrust laws, however, prohibit newspaper owners from getting together and even having that conversation.
Likewise, Jacobs called laws against cross-ownership anachronistic. “Congress is saying these laws should stay in place because we don’t want too few voices,” he points out. “But this made sense when there were three or four channels, not now.” And, Jacobs added, the media industry is going to further transform in ways we cannot predict. “Things are moving at such a rapid pace, and we don’t know what’s coming next – anyone who says they do is lying,” he concluded. “So we’re coming up with new business models every day. It’s a challenging and exciting time.”
Prior to joining News Corporation in 1996 as Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Jacobs began his career at Squadron, Ellenoff, Plesent & Sheinfeld (merged with Hogan and Hartson in 2002), where he was partner from 1991 until 1996. He is also a member of the Office of the Chairman of News Corporation and General Counsel of Fox Entertainment Group, which is wholly owned by News Corporation. In addition, Jacobs serves on the board of directors of NDS Group, plc, a U.K. digital rights management company, as the chairman of the board of directors of the Cooke Center for Learning and Development in New York City, and on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Aristotle International, Inc.
He graduated from Brooklyn Law School cum laude, where he was a member of the Brooklyn Law Review, and from Temple University summa cum laude.
By Stephanie Staal ’10
View video of the event.