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
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Execution Trader

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global Rolling Spot FX, Comm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game