Television

BSkyB says Tony Ball to step down; company shares fall amid concern

LONDON: British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) Group stated today that its chief executive officer (CEO) Tony Ball would step down from his post.

"Mr Ball will continue as chief executive until a successor is appointed, which is likely to be well before his current contract ends on May 31, 2004," the company said in a statement.

According to Reuters newswire, press reports earlier this month had indicated that James Murdoch, whose father Rupert owns 34 percent of the British pay-TV company, would take over the reins from Ball. BSkyB did not name any potential successors in its statement, but investors and analysts have expressed concern about James taking over.

The 30-year-old James had dropped out of Harvard to launch a hip-hop record label before joining the family business. Today, he is the chairman and chief executive of Star TV, News Corp's Asian pay TV service.

Reports that Ball will leave, sent BSkyB's shares falling through last week. Investors showed concern that the relatively inexperienced younger Murdoch will be imposed on them, AFP reported. However today, BSkyB's shares climbed 1.45 percent to 630.5 pence, in the morning trading.

Ball has overseen a doubling of subscriber numbers since being appointed in mid-1999. AFP also stated that the senior Murdoch had hailed Ball as "one of the outstanding businessmen in Britain" earlier today.

However if James takes over from Ball, many potential pitfalls await him - notably a possible threat to the broadcaster's rights to show live English Premiership football games, seen as the backbone of its service, AFP said. BSkyB's live football coverage, which began in 1992, has proved the key to the broadcaster's success. 

Launched as Sky in 1989, the venture lost huge amounts of money before merging with rival fledgling satellite outfit BSB. Ball, one of Britain's best-paid executives, is said to have overseen BSkyB's success during a potentially treacherous time.

However analysts have expressed concern that Rupert Murdoch's seeming dynastic ambitions could see the business hit trouble, AFP said. His other children Lachlan and Elizabeth also hold or have held senior posts in his empire.

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