Sky's share price rises as James Murdoch named chairman (again) and broadcaster reports highest UK and Ireland growth in 10 years

Catherine Neilan
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James Murdoch resigned in the wake of the phone hacking crisis, which engulfed News of the World (Source: Getty)

Rupert Murdoch's son James is to become chairman of Sky in April, as incumbent Nichols Ferguson steps down after 12 years on the board.

Martin Gilbert has been appointed as deputy chairman, with Andrew Sukawaty taking over his former role as Sky's senior independent director.

This is not Murdoch's first stint as chairman of the broadcaster, having held the role between 2007 and 2012. He stepped down in the midst of the phone hacking crisis, noting that his role "could become a lightning rod for BSkyB".

He was also chief executive of the broadcasting business, in which his father owns a 39.1 per cent controlling stake, between 2003 and 2007.

Sky's share price rose 2.4 per cent on the news this morning. But not everyone was happy.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, corporate governance manager of RLAM, which owns 4.7 million shares passively in Sky, worth £49m, said: "The re-appointment of Mr Murdoch as chairman is inappropriate in our view. Should Fox make a bid for Sky, investors need a strong independent chairman to protect the interests of minority shareholders and negotiate the best possible deal.”

Murdoch said: "I am proud to have been asked by the board to serve as chairman of Sky, one of the world's leading pay TV companies. Jeremy and the team at Sky have done an outstanding job in building a dynamic and successful company.

"As chairman, I look forward to working with the board and management as they continue to deliver a great service for Sky's customers and create value for all shareholders over the years to come."

Ferguson said: "It's difficult to find the right time to step down from chairing a great company and working with an outstanding board and management team... Sky continues to grow impressively, to innovate with wonderful products and to serve its customers to the highest standard. So now is the right time for me to step back.

"I am sure that the company will continue to prosper under the leadership of Jeremy, supported by James and the board."

The news comes as Sky reports "excellent" first half results, with the highest customer growth in the UK and Ireland in 10 years, as 337,000 new customers signed up for the pay-for TV service.

Revenues were up five per cent for the six months to 31 December, while EBITDA was up eight per cent. Operating profit was up 12 per cent to £747m - Sky's highest ever - although statutory profit fell two per cent.

Shareholders will receive a boost to their dividends, up 12.6p per share.

Jeremy Darroch, group chief executive, said: "We have had another very strong half as we continue to transform Sky, broadening our business and expanding into new markets and customer segments. This strategy is delivering today and opening up significant growth opportunities for the future. We are pursuing those opportunities with energy and purpose."

Darroch also praised Ferguson and welcomed Murdoch backed to the hot seat, saying his "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".

"We're excited about 2016 and we start the year with good momentum, Darroch added. "With an outstanding set of new initiatives and products for our customers, we are well positioned to deliver further strong growth and returns for shareholders."

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