(Adds terms of Chernin’s Fox deal)
By Robert MacMillan
NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - News Corp (NWSA.O) President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin will leave after 12 years on the job, depriving the media conglomerate of its second-highest ranking executive as it deals with a severe decline in advertising revenue.
Chernin, 57, is a well-regarded Hollywood executive who has been a critical force in News Corp’s success in movies and TV. But though he has been with the company for nearly 20 years, it was unlikely that Chernin would ever get more than a secondary role because Murdoch is expected to eventually hand the reins to his son James, 36.
“I think that Murdoch is viewed as the visionary, and Chernin is viewed as the operator ... the guy who says, ‘I get things done,” UBS analyst Michael Morris said.
“Certainly losing a leader with Mr. Chernin’s abilities and reputation is yet another challenge for the company,” said Morris, who has a hold rating on News Corp.
News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch and Chernin had failed to reach an agreement on a new contract, so he will leave when his existing contract expires on June 30, the company said on Monday.
Chernin will start a Fox-based production company as well as other ventures, News Corp said.
Chernin will be under a six-year deal that calls for him to produce movies and TV shows for Fox, which must buy at least two movies a year from him, News Corp spokeswoman Julie Henderson said.
He would get a fee “at least as favorable as the most favorable agreement” that the studio has with other producers, she said.
It did not name a successor but said Murdoch, 77, would take over Chernin’s supervision of the company’s Fox movie and television operations.
“Peter is a valued colleague and a trusted friend,” Murdoch said in a statement. “I will miss him. It is understandable that at this stage in his life he would want to do something new after serving News Corp and our shareholders so well for so long.”
Chernin called the decision difficult, and said News Corp employees and Murdoch “would continue to thrive without me.”
Speculation has been rife among media circles on where Chernin would go next. For a short time, some industry observers said he could be in the running for the next chief executive of Internet search company Yahoo Inc YHOO.O.
The resignation comes at a difficult time for News Corp, which has had a decline in advertising revenue at its papers and local TV stations, as well as falling DVD sales.
The markets are souring on Murdoch’s persistence in holding on to his newspapers, including the New York Post.
At the company, Chernin was more focused on TV and Internet growth, such as the MySpace online social network.
Earlier this month, News Corp wrote down half the value of Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co, which it bought for $5.6 billion in 2007. It wrote down a total of $8.4 billion when it reported fiscal second-quarter results on Feb. 5.
News Corp also cut its fiscal 2009 operating income forecast to a decline of 30 percent versus its previous forecast for a fall in the mid-teen percentage range.
James Murdoch will stay in charge of News Corp’s European and Asian operations, including The Sun and Times newspapers in London and Star television in India, the Financial Times reported on its website on Monday.
News Corp shares fell 26 cents, or 4.3 percent, to close at $5.78 on Nasdaq. Shares have fallen 70 percent in the last 12 months. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan; Additional reporting by Anupreeta Das in New York and Gina Keating in Los Angeles; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Richard Chang)