Rupe pulls up chair

Mogul expected to assume BSkyB top slot

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch is likely to be named chairman of British Sky Broadcasting when the U.K. satcaster’s board meets today.

Murdoch, whose News Corp. is BSkyB’s largest shareholder with a 40% stake, is expected to take over from Pathe’s Jerome Seydoux.

Seydoux is due to stand down following the sale of Pathe’s 17% stake in BSkyB to Vivendi. Pathe’s Michel Crepon is also expected to resign as a non-executive director of the satcaster.

Vivendi, headed by Jean-Marie Messier, should now get the two vacated seats on the board. But Messier is not a serious candidate for the chairmanship because of a possible conflict of interest with Vivendi’s role as the largest shareholder in France’s Canal Plus.

Crucial developments

Murdoch is widely tipped to take the chair himself, in a move to protect News Corp.’s interests at a time when BSkyB is moving into a crucial development phase on two fronts.

On the one hand, the satcaster has lost its virtual monopoly on multichannel distribution with the arrival of digital terrestrial and digital cable. BSkyB is making its own huge investment in digital to ensure that it at least retains a position of market leadership.

On the other hand, there’s the prospect of closer cooperation with Canal Plus via Vivendi, possibly leading toward a merger.

Murdoch has always called the shots at BSkyB, hand-picking its senior management team from his own trusted lieutenants.

His decision to transfer Tony Ball from Fox/Liberty Sports to become the satcaster’s new chief exec following the departure of Mark Booth was leaked long before it had been rubber-stamped by the supposedly independent appointments committee. Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth is No. 2 at the station.

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