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Chisholm trails off early from BSkyB

LONDON — Sam Chisholm, the fiery chief exec of British Sky Broadcasting, is stepping down today at the satcaster’s annual meeting, well before his previously stated exit at the end of the year.

Chisholm, 58, will remain a consultant to BSkyB for two years and will continue to receive a share of profits. He is succeeded by Mark Booth, 41, former chief of News Corp.’s Japanese satcaster, JSkyB. Chisholm announced his departure in June, citing health reasons.

“As transition periods go, this has been a very good one,” Chisholm said. “Mark and I have agreed that the annual meeting is the appropriate time for a formal handover.”

The New Zealander is credited with having turned around BSkyB from the early ’90s, when it was hemorrhaging red ink. Today, BSkyB is one of the most powerful and wealthy broadcasters in the U.K.

Chisholm’s ankling coincides with a new book about BSkyB, called “Sky High,” from media analyst Mathew Horsman, which includes interviews with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch (Daily Variety, Nov. 11) . News Corp. owns 40% of BSkyB.

Chisholm has a formidable reputation within BSkyB and as a negotiator with other companies.

“I don’t want to take away from Sam, he’s a very effective executive, but he is as territorial as hell,” Murdoch is quoted as saying in the book. “He calls the plays, and he gets it right more often than not. The problem is, he plays favorites, and he frightens people.”

Chisholm’s working relationship with Elisabeth Murdoch, BSkyB’s general manager and Rupert’s daughter, is described in the book as stormy and competitive, a key reason Rupert Murdoch pushed for Chisholm’s removal. “Elizabeth thought that Sam would teach her everything, but he didn’t,” Murdoch said. “He tried to cut her out. He thought she was talking to me, and she was.”

Other British TV execs sing Chisholm’s praises and simultaneously condemn him for being duplicitous in the tome.

“I don’t trust him and his word is not his bond,” said David Elstein, Channel 5 chief exec and former BSkyB programming head. “Basically, he’d double cross anyone if it suited his purposes.”

Michael Grade, the former head of Channel 4, said: “I like Sam, I get on very well with him; very, very well. But I wouldn’t trust him an inch on a deal.”

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