News Corp. Measuring MySpace By Quarters But Digital Publishing Has Longer Leash

Chase Carey used the same language to set two very different timescales for some of his key businesses during News Corp.’s Wednesday analyst call.

Carey, president and COO, set a turnaround clock on under-performing MySpace: “This is something we judge in quarters, not in years.” But, on digital news publishing, News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) is far from expecting immediate results.

Asked to judge The Times’ newly-disclosed paid digital sales figures, Carey cautioned: “This is not just a one- or two-quarter game – this is something that’s going to build over years.”

The turn of phrase tells you everything about the two businesses’ differing fortunes within News Corp. It’s strange days when a pure-play digital operator can envy the predicament of the newspaper business. But MySpace has had its years and is now running on a very short leash.

The news business, however, is larger and far more significant to News Corp, whose patience is, therefore, a whole lot greater.

“Realistically, it’s very early,” Carey said. “Digital as a whole – some of these platforms, like tablets, are just emerging. This is a great start, a great foundation. We look forward to building on this. We feel very good about it.”

Considering the online news business is now about 15 years old, the “early days” talk might seem odd. But those years have been web years – for the payment mechanisms and devices that are allowing publishers to finally conceive a digital publishing business with rules and opportunities that can really be touched, it’s year zero again.

News Corp, from the top down to its execs, is very enthusiastic about the opportunity of tablets, which allow publishers to dream of reconstituting their content once again as a packaged product, with a “cover” price.

What they are really imagining, I think, is the increasingly realistic scenario of a post-print world, which has at its heart an equivalent, digital newspaper business underpinned by real business potential, rather than depressing alternative – the relative mere digital cents of the open web.

Building out this scenario now is why Carey can afford to be patient and relaxed about the long haul, whether analysts judge the apparent small numbers of its consumer paywalls’ first four months a failure or not. Because News Corp is big and profitable to suck up the investment and time necessary to try and save its future self.

Carey even cautioned against short-term returns from the iPad sector. Asked about the developmental mass-market tablet title codenamed Daily Planet, he said: “We are looking at an array of digital opportunities. When we get to a place that there’s something we’re going to do, then we’ll announce it.” There’s seemingly no hurry.

MySpace, however, is at the opposite end of this continuum. Once, it was to be the engine of digital growth. But, whilst the tablet, mobile and payments opportunities have brought new rules and the prospect of reinvention to the news business (or, at least, to those who wish to believe it so), what is MySpace’s new, new impetus? One more redefinition as the “social entertainment network” it already was.

*Time* and tide…