Inside Move: BSkyB’s James gang

Murdoch son rallies as search expands

The search for a new BSkyB toppper grew increasingly surreal last week as Peter Chernin defended James Murdoch for the job and the U.K. press trumpeted a trio of U.S. showbiz execs as potential successors to departing CEO Tony Ball.

British papers and TV were brimming with reports that Matt Blank, head of Viacom’s Showtime Networks, Steve Bornstein, NFL Network prexy and former ESPN topper, and Scott Sassa, former NBC West Coast prexy, are all on executive search firm Spencer Stuart’s list of possibilities to run News Corp.’s giant U.K. paybox.

At least two of the three, Blank and Sassa, have not been approached. And neither is said to be interested in the job, which is based in London. Bornstein couldn’t be reached.

News Corp. topper and controlling shareholder Rupert Murdoch would like his youngest son James, 30, to run the shop — a sentiment that has distressed some BSkyB directors and employees.

So the company hired Spencer Stuart to launch a global search for the best qualified person. The feeling is that a true search would likely disqualify James, despite his experience running Star TV.

At a press briefing in Cannes during Mipcom last week, Chernin called all the “noise” around the appointment “alarming.” He noted that News Corp. has a history of naming strong CEOs and said the conglom has no desire to wreck a company that it’s built into a real dynamo.

What’s likely is an eventual compromise, by which James would work closely as chief operating officer or VP alongside a more seasoned exec.