News Corp’s Big Subscription Plan Coming Next Month – But What Is It?

News Corp (NYSE: NWS) is planning to unveil an “innovative subscription model” in the next month – on a curiously similar timescale to the launch of paid-for Times and Sunday Times websites.

Rupert Murdoch has hinted at a such an effort in recent months. In Tuesday’s Q3 earnings call with analysts and reporters, he again said the the group has been speaking with a broad base of potential partners, and put us on alert for an imminent launch…

We’ll be giving a press conference in about three to four weeks which we hope will have some important announcements in,” Murdoch said. Will this mechanism charge for entertainment as well as news, a caller asked? “Oh, you bet,” Murdoch said. “Everybody’s been negotiating with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) about television shows, films – we do VOD, everything’s on there.” Will it be a competitor to iTunes Store, asked the questioner? “I guess so; an extension of it,” Murdoch replied.

This diary marker may coincide happily with the planned paywall for the Times websites in the UK this June, following the expected Times Online reboot in May. And could it also have something to do with those rumors of a subscription plan for News Corp’s Hulu JV… ?

The broad, cross-media nature of whatever it is Murdoch will unveil is intriguing. The new Times websites will cost £1 a day, £2 a week or free with a print subscription – but details on the latter bundle are as yet scant, leaving the model on its own looking rather rudimentary. Perhaps earlier speculation, that Times Online could charge subs along with a BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) satellite TV subscription for example, aren’t so far-fetched after all? And who could rule out lumping other News Corp offerings – say, movie tickets – in as well?

Despite a return in advertising revenue from last year, Murdoch is still as keen as ever on charging, despite some observers’ scepticism. “Fortune favours the bold,” he said in the conference call, rattling off a list of successful News Corp. business lines that were initially met with suspicion: “Our approach to content is setting new standards for success and redefining the industry.”

But Murdoch’s “new standards” and new subscription mechanism aren’t a rejection of Apple’s own payments platform. In fact, he’s still evangelic about the potential for pay-for tablet publishing kicked off by iPad…

I believe it will lead a revolution in media consumption and create added value for both our news and entertainment content,” he said. “But these new devices are entirely dependent on the flow of quality content – we are uniquely poised to capitalise on this … Unlike Kindle, we keep 100 percent of the subscription revenue from the iPad.”