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James Murdoch Re-Elected to BSkyB Board

BSkyB
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chairman Nicholas Ferguson tells the company's annual meeting in London that Murdoch's continued role has had "absolutely no" negative effect on its operations or stock.

LONDON - News Corp. deputy COO James Murdoch was among a slew of directors re-elected to the board of U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB here on Thursday at the company's annual shareholder meeting.

While a few activist investor groups called for his departure from the post of non-executive director given his affiliation with his father Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns a 39 percent stake in BSkyB, shareholders formally re-elected him in a meeting here attended by about 80 people. James Murdoch had stepped down as BSkyB chairman earlier this year to focus on a role as a regular board member,

The meeting was much more quiet than last year's, which took place after the phone hacking scandal at News Corp. had reignited. Voting figures projected on a screen at the meeting Thursday showed that James Murdoch, who was in attendance, was reelected with 95 percent of the vote. Only 4.98 percent of shareholders opposed his reelection, compared with 19 percent last year when he was still chairman.

Asked about a recent comment by U.K. media regulator Ofcom that BSkyB was a "fit and proper" TV company, but that James Murdoch seemed to not have enough questions when he ran News International where the phone hacking scandal erupted, BSkyB Nicholas Ferguson defended him.

"Very clearly, the Ofcom report…also said that they saw no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Murdoch," Ferguson, who took over from Murdoch as chairman in April, said, adding that "we have known him a long time." He added that the board continues to support him unanimously and to see him as a "competent" executive with "very high integrity."

Another shareholder later asked if the name Murdoch hasn't become "toxic" and could hurt BSkyB, Ferguson said "we have seen absolutely no effect" on the company's operations or its stock price performance.

Ferguson started off the meeting by saying that the pay TV giant had "another excellent year" and thanking Murdoch for having made "a major contribution." He added that the company will "continue to benefit" from his contributions given his role as a board member.

CEO Jeremy Darroch in his remarks emphasized that BSkyB has broadened its service portfolio and revenue from the single product of pay TV to "a strategy that encompasses multiple products." He said that this has "transformed [the company's] growth profile."

Since 2008, that has allowed almost 20 recent subscriber growth to 10.6 million, with BSkyB doubling its earnings per share.

And the resulting strength will allow the company to spend more on content. "By 2014, we expect to have upped our spend on original U.K. production to 600 million a year - an increase of more than 50 percent over three years," he said.

Among the other board members in attendance Thursday were News International CEO Tom Mockridge and News Corp. CFO David DeVoe.

Ferguson said that the company continues to look for two new independent directors. And females with operating experience are one key focus, he said when asked why only one woman was currently on the board. But he highlighted that there are not too many such women who are available for board roles.  
 
In a question that drew laughs, a Bristol City soccer fan asked the BSkyB board to get Sky Sports to show more games involving his team.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai