BSkyB Dangles Dividend Carrot at Dissident Shareholders

13 November 2003

The unguent of resumed dividend payments could help calm the stormy waters expected at Friday's annual meeting of BSkyB -- the UK satellite broadcasting giant controlled by America's News Corporation -- or so hopes the company's board.

A number of powerful institutional shareholders are gunning for those non-executive directors they see as overly compliant with the wishes of chairman Rupert Murdoch in the recent controversial installation of his youngest son James as BSkyB chief executive.

Centered in investors crosswires is the patrician Lord Norman St John Stevas, former Conservative minister for the arts, constitutional expert, serial non-executive director and longtime pal of Murdoch senior. Stevas it was that headed the hastily convened nominations committee of BSkyB non-executive directors that unanimously recommended James for the job.

But all may be forgotten if not forgiven with the carrot of resumed dividends -- conspicuous by their absence since 1998. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal at his London home, the noble Lord opined that BSkyB's board (which meets today, Thursday) could agree to reinstate dividends ahead of tomorrow's AGM, a move he would "strongly favor".

Such a decision would send a signal of stability. "The thing I hate, and I think is bad for the company, is uncertainty," said Stevas. "It's best to move quickly."

But others close to the company are less certain. NewsCorp will be needing every last scrap of cash it can lay hands on if US regulators approve its takeover of America's number one satellite broadcaster DirecTV -- to say nothing of other juicy acquisition prospects such as Russia's NTV Plus [WAMN: 11-Nov-03].

Let chairman Murdoch himself have the final word [as he invariably does]: "This will be a dividend-paying company again . . . but I wouldn't want to put a date on it," he told last year's BSkyB annual meeting.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff