Murdoch still planning his Euro invasion

The Australian tycoon will not let his plans to break into continental Europe be frustrated by his failure to buy Manchester United

Everyone falls out with Rupert Murdoch eventually." That was the tart conclusion of one prominent media analyst following last week's sudden departure of BSkyB's chief executive Mark Booth.

BSkyB adamantly denied a rift. The official explanation was that Booth had been offered a dream opportunity by Microsoft to pursue his interest in the internet with the carrot of a trail-blazing pay package. Murdoch, whose News Corp owns 40 per cent of BSkyB, does not like seeing his top executives defect to the opposition, particularly when the beneficiary of their experience is Bill Gates. So he came up with his own $300m (pounds 180m) fund to invest in the web and Booth accepted the new job, encouraged by the promise of a large stake in the new company.

BSkyB's surprise announcement contained fulsome praise of Booth's performance at BSkyB, particularly of his role in the launch of the company's digital television service, which has attracted 350,000 subscribers in its first four months.

But BSkyB's announcement left many observers suspicious. "I don't know anyone who would turn down a $25m package," says one well-paid City banker in reference to the salary Microsoft was reported to have offered Booth.

"I am a little surprised that Booth would move from the helm of a multi- billion pound company to a fund with just $300m to play with," one analyst wondered. The hunt for another explanation for Booth's move had begun.

The immediate thought was that Booth, a 43-year-old American who joined the Pay-TV group from MTV in 1997, had fallen out with the managing director of Sky Networks - one Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert's daughter. BSkyB's response was immediate: Booth's successor would come from outside BSkyB, ruling out Elisabeth.

Others wondered whether this was Rupert's revenge for BSkyB's failure at the hands of the Monopolies & Mergers Commission to buy Manchester United, although Murdoch appears to be accepting the setback with unusual equanimity.

Perhaps Booth simply tired of the job. He is known to have been suffering from flu at a time when Sky Digital requires his constant attention. One City analyst comments: "It is an extremely difficult company to run and it takes a lot out of you."

But others focused on the idea that Booth felt that his job was being threatened by a pincer movement between father and daughter.

Booth is thought to have felt sidelined by his boss's eagerness for a tie-up with CanalPlus, the French media group which Murdoch hopes to use as a bridgehead for his assault on the European pay-TV market.

Much to Booth's chagrin, Murdoch appeared willing to give up management control of the merged group. In any event, the French government blanched at any prospect of Murdoch gaining influence there and the deal died.

Jon Watts, of Spectrum Strategy Consultants, says: "The major challenges for Booth have passed. Digital was launched, British Interactive Broadcasting has come through its most difficult phase. The major challenge now is to broaden Sky's appeal from sports and films to a more general entertainment audience and the person positioned to take on that challenge is Elisabeth Murdoch.

"If Rupert Murdoch intends to take the lead in Europe and Elisabeth is running programming, Booth's is not the most challenging post."

What most analysts agree on is that Booth had for some time been on the lookout for another job. For one thing, he did not appear to share his boss's eagerness to attack the Continental pay-TV market which has become the unrequited love of Murdoch's life. That difference probably made their relationship untenable.

Deal after deal has eluded the media tycoon. His initial target was Germany, but attempts to ally himself with the domestic media giants - Bertelsmann, Deutsche Telekom and Kirch - have come to nothing.

Next he turned his attention to Italy. His intent was signalled last November when he hired Letizia Moratti, the former Italian state broadcasting chief, to head up his new venture, NewsCorp Europe.

But a much-vaunted deal with Telecom Italia failed to materialise, leaving TelePlus as the dominant Italian player. Last week, Murdoch finally secured a 35 per cent stake in an Italian digital TV station, Stream, but analysts remain unconvinced of that deal's merits for Murdoch.

Mathew Horsman, media analyst at Investec Henderson Crosthwaite and the author of Sky High: The Inside Story Of BSkyB, remains sanguine about Murdoch's chances of cracking the European nut.

"He has an extraordinary interest in going into Europe, which has been frustrated so far by real or perceived regulatory problems," he says. "But he got into Italy after a struggle. It will take time and lots of money but I believe he will get there."

Others are less convinced, and feel that Murdoch puts them off: "If BSkyB had normal investors, rather than News International, it would be the partner of choice for European media companies," says one City banker.

The theory goes that the viewers of the future will access television via the internet, much as radio listeners are able to tune in. In that event, governments will be powerless to prevent companies like BSkyB broadcasting wherever they want. Murdoch would have whatever access to Continental viewers he wanted and the need for alliances with European media groups would disappear.

"How do you stop Manchester United against Inter Milan, for example, being sent across the internet rather than on TV?" asks the City banker.

"What would be the point of a broadcasting licence then? It would be impossible for governments to interfere. I think this is something which Murdoch is beginning to take on board."

With universal distribution, the key to success would be control of content. Hence Murdoch's desire to buy Manchester United.

That deal foundered. But who's to say the next time Rupert swoops - perhaps on continental European football - he won't succeed?

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

1st Line Support Technician / Application Support

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...

Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine