Murdoch moves swiftly to replace topper

Rupert Murdoch tightened his control of Teutonic pay TV platform Premiere, replacing topper Michael Boernicke, who ankled suddenly Wednesday, with Mark Williams, News Corp.’s finance chief for Europe and Asia.

The conglom owns 25% of Premiere and is the publicly traded feevee’s biggest shareholder.

“The new task came as a surprise,” Williams said. “I am convinced that there is great potential for pay TV in Germany, and I know that News Corp. shares that opinion.”

He will report to James Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., Europe and Asia.

Chief among Williams’ duties will be to increase Premiere’s subscription base — and his best bet for doing that is to land the all-important rights to top league Bundesliga soccer for the upcoming season.

The future of the Bundesliga is up in the air after the local antitrust watchdog nixed a deal between the German Football League and media mogul Leo Kirch to jointly market the rights.

The ruling could benefit Premiere by leaving it the only viable player to pick up the soccer rights.

Boernicke, who stepped down after a year, resigned for personal reasons. He said in a statement that “the management had made significant decisions to lead Premiere in a long-term path towards a sustainable growth.”

However, Premiere last month posted a second-quarter loss of nearly $60 million, which it blamed in part on piracy, while revenue climbed 19% to more than $420 million.

Boernicke replaced Georg Kofler, who left to pursue a new venture in renewable energy.

Williams is a key player in News Corp. He also serves as chief financial officer of News Intl. (News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper business); he is CFO across the conglom’s operations in Europe and Asia, supporting satcaster Sky Italia (where he also sits on the executive board), Star TV and News Corp. Europe.

Williams had been a member of Premiere’s supervisory board but is stepping down.

He joined News Corp. in 1996 as CFO of Australian pay TV platform Foxtel.

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