Accompanied by Hallelujahs of mutual eulogizing, BSkyB chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executive Tony Ball on Tuesday bade each other farewell, as the latter prepared to depart Europe’s largest pay-TV operator.

Ball, said Murdoch, had proved himself “one of the outstanding businessmen in Britain”. The chairman waxed uncharacteristically lyrical: “Under his leadership Sky has successfully brought digital TV to millions of British homes. The company now stands ready to reap the rewards of its investments.”

Ball, right on cue, declared himself "very proud of the achievements of the whole [BSkyB] team”. He continued: “I leave with many happy memories and a firm belief that the company is now well positioned to continue to deliver on its operational and financial targets.”

Curious, though, believe students of the spaces between the lines, that Ball is to quit his post with eight months of his contract still to run. Why the rush? Might there perhaps be a successor waiting in the wings, panting to fill the void?

Indeed there might, as the media’s destruction of several Scandinavian forests over the past week has attested. Meanwhile a BSkyB nominations committee, headed by independent director Lord Norman St John Stevas of Fawsley, has been scouring the furthest outposts of the solar system for a successor.

Step forward James Murdoch, 31, second scion of BSkyB’s chairman, Harvard dropout, and yet to prove himself “one of the outstanding businessmen in Britain” (or anywhere else). His widely expected appointment is still unconfirmed.

As is the payoff garnered by Ball, whose basic salary of £762,000 ($1.26m; €109.8m) was garnished in the last financial year by a £1.5m bonus. He will continue to work as a consultant for News Corporation “across all of our television platforms” until the end of May 2004.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff