BSkyB revs up 22%

LONDON — British pay television company BSkyB Plc on Friday reported a 22% rise in pre-tax profit in its final year under the leadership of chief executive Sam Chisholm.

Chisholm, who is stepping down in December after helping to make BSkyB one of the corporate success stories of the 1990s, signed off with pre-tax profit of £314 million ($499 million) in the year ended June 30, up from £257 million ($408 million) a year earlier.

Chisholm praised the company for an “impressive performance.”

“Turnover and profits have grown strongly and debt levels have been reduced at a time when the company is investing for the future,” Chisholm said in a statement.

BSkyB said revenue should grow this year from higher subscription numbers and higher charges. But it added that programming and marketing costs would also rise as it prepares to launch a digital service next year.

BSkyB, a company 40% owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has seen its share price fall some 30% since February.

News that Chisholm and his deputy David Chance, both of whom have suffered health problems, were to step down undermined the stock. A further blow came when British regulators forced BSkyB to withdraw from a TV partnership with Carlton Communications Plc and Granada Group Plc.

BSkyB confirmed it was on course to launch 200-channel digital satellite TV in Britain next spring.

The move into the digital era will be led by Chisholm’s successor, Mark Booth, currently chief operating officer at News Corp.’s JSkyB venture in Japan.

Chisholm and Chance will both remain as consultants and board members, while Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth is head of programming.

BSkyB also has teamed up with British Telecom, Midland Bank and Japan’s Matsushita to set up the British Interactive Broadcasting (BIB) venture, to provide online services such as home shopping and banking for digital satellite customers.

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