James Murdoch returns to Sky

James Murdoch (above) is currently chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the jewel in his father’s crown.
James Murdoch (above) is currently chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the jewel in his father’s crown.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's son James will return as chairman of British broadcaster Sky in a move likely to fuel rumours of a takeover bid, four years after he quit amid a phone hacking scandal.

"The board has appointed James Murdoch to succeed Nicholas Ferguson as chairman," the company said in a statement Friday to the London Stock Exchange.

In 2011, Rupert Murdoch abandoned a takeover bid for Sky, of which he owns 39 per cent, as controversy raged over the hacking of celebrities and crime victims by his tabloid the News of the World.

The paper was shut down and former editor Rebekah Brooks was arrested on suspicion of being involved but later cleared of all charges in 2014.

Last year, she was appointed to head up Rupert Murdoch's News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers.

James Murdoch is currently chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the jewel in his father's crown.

He is the Australian-born US tycoon's youngest son and heir apparent to his father's international media holdings.

After dropping out of Harvard in 1995, James Murdoch created his own hip-hop label, "Rawkus," which was later bought by his father's company News Corp.

Returning to the family business, he managed News Corp's musical division and later moved to Hong Kong to manage Star TV.

His father named James in 2003 as the chief executive of BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting), now Sky.

The appointment at age 30 to head the British satellite television broadcaster made him the youngest chief executive in FTSE 100 history.

He then became chairman but resigned on April 4, 2012 amid growing pressure over what he knew about the illegal accessing of voicemails by News of the World.

Shore Capital analyst Roddy Davidson said James Murdoch's return to Sky would likely "rekindle speculation regarding 21st Century Fox's plans for its 39 percent stake".

Rupert Murdoch has always seen the aborted deal to takeover Sky as "unfinished business", the BBC quoted its sources as saying.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter magazine in October, James Murdoch said that "having 40 per cent of an unconsolidated asset is not an end state that is natural for us".

"Right now, we're 100 per cent focused on supporting the company to get this integration going and get it done for the business to move forward, so there are no plans on the agenda right now," he said.

Sky offers pay television and Internet services in five countries: Austria, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Italy.

"James' deep knowledge of the international media industry and his passion for supporting Sky's ongoing success will make an even greater contribution to our business in the future," said Jeremy Darroch, Sky's chief executive.

His appointment came as Sky published earnings showing its highest customer growth in Britain and Ireland for 10 years, with 337,000 people joining in the October to December period.

The group also announced Friday that operating profits in the six months through December had risen 12 per cent to £747 million (S$1.5 billion).

Revenue jumped by 5 per cent to £5.7 billion during the period.

Investors welcomed the announcement, with Sky shares jumping nearly 4 per cent on the London Stock Exchange.