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James Murdoch returns to Sky chair role

James Murdoch is to return to Sky as chairman in a move that many believe could presage a renewed attempt by 21st Century Fox to consolidate the pay TV giant by acquiring the 60.4% of the organisation that it does not already own

James Murdoch MIPCOMCurrent chairman Nicholas Ferguson will step down at the end of April after 12 years on the Sky board.

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

Murdoch remained a non-executive director of Sky after stepping down as chairman in 2012 in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that scuppered what was then News Corp’s attempt to consolidate the operator.

Sky now comprises pay TV operations in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Germany and Italy after consolidation in 2014.

Last October, Murdoch stimulated speculation about Fox’s future intentions for the enlarged group when he said that the former’s lack of full control of the latter was not a “natural end state”.

This came after he succeeded his father, Rupert, as CEO of Fox, which recently rebranded Fox International Channels under the Fox Networks Group banner, and after Fox took majority control of its National Geographic Channels joint venture.

“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,” said the outgoing Ferguson. “I joined the board twelve years ago, in 2004, meaning that I have been with Sky for nearly half its life. When I became chairman in 2012, I wrote in the annual report that I would stay on long enough to ensure continuity.”

“The then virtually new board is now seasoned and bedded in. We have completed major international acquisitions in Germany and Italy; they are running to plan and we have first-class management in place.

“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.”