Ball to Bounce Out of BSkyB?

16 September 2003

Tony Ball, chief executive of News Corporation-controlled satellite TV giant BSkyB could be set to walk the corporate plank in the foreseeable future, according to the Financial Times. The drop at the end of the plank, however, is expected to be cushioned by a vault-load of crisp £100 notes.

BSkyB’s chairman Rupert Murdoch is taking a personal interest in Ball’s future and is said to be closeted in talks with him about life after the expiry of his service agreement next June. These chats are said to be “informal but intense” and centre around the chief executive’s role.

NewsCorp and Ball both declined comment. But according to an insider who preferred not to be named: “There is a strong possibility that Tony will not renew his contract. Sky is at an inflection point and it’s not inconsistent to make a change.” Murdoch is reportedly looking for a resolution of the matter before News Corporation’s annual meeting in November.

There is intense speculation as to who might take over from Ball, whose reign has seen the consolidation of BSkyB as Europe’s most successful pay-TV company.

The name on most insiders’ lips is that of James Murdoch, not unrelated by lineage to the chairman. But it is reported that his appointment would not go down well with other investors or analysts. Richard Freudenstein, BSkyB’s chief operating officer is also seen as dark horse.

Ball, one of the best paid executives in Britain, who last month sold his stake in BSkyB for £9.3 million, is not short of offers from elsewhere in the media and technology world. “While Tony could remain at Sky, he has the personal wealth and counter-offers to consider a new challenge,” observed one associate.

But other observers believe Ball’s recent shares sale and the current flurry of leaks are a carefully orchestrated negotiating gambit by the canny ceo, who allowed his last contract with BSkyB to lapse before inking a new deal in the wake of a three-week poker game with Murdoch.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff