The announcement was made a few hours after Thames's bid for the Channel 5 franchise was rejected, but Mr Elstein insisted last night that he had agreed to join BSkyB before that verdict was known.
At the end of next week, Thames goes off the air as London's weekday Channel 3 broadcaster, having been outbid by Carlton in last year's auction. It will remain an independent producer, but without Channel 5 there would clearly be no role for a director of programmes. Mr Elstein, 48, had been among those tipped as contenders to succeed Jonathan Powell as head of BBC 1 next year but he said last night: 'John Birt (the new BBC director general) never approached me. He has my phone number.'
BSkyB can now be viewed by 17 per cent of the population. Mr Elstein predicts that in three years that will have risen to 30 per cent. 'I've always been very interested in that side of the business and I'm impressed by the way BSkyB have got their act together so quickly, turning a huge loss centre into a huge profit centre.'
He will supervise programming on the four subscription movie and sports channels, as well as Sky News and Sky One. He will also control the two new channels BSkyB is expected to acquire when a new Astra satellite comes on stream.
At 48, he has been director of programmes at Thames for seven years. Before that he was an independent producer. 'It will be nice to work in a system where you don't have to keep referring to committees and where you don't have people handing down daft decisions like today's on Channel 5,' he said.
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