Tony Ball joins BT board

Former BskyB chief made non-executive director

LONDON -- Former BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball has been appointed to the board of U.K. telecoms giant British Telecom as non-executive director, it was announced Wednesday, in a surprise move that potentially casts doubt on his likelihood to succeed Michael Grade as ITV chief executive.

Ball, who is currently chairman of German cable operator Kabel Deutschland, is thought to be the frontrunner in the race to succeed Grade, who has said he will step down as ITV CEO before the year-end. Communications minister Stephen Carter is also thought to be under consideration for the post.

But the BT board announcement could potentially count against Ball with the ITV board, which could view the appointment as a potential conflict of interest.

The news comes a day after the government announced a £6 ($9.80) per year tax on BT customers to support investment in new broadband infrastructure.

If Ball were to take the ITV post, where BSkyB is the biggest shareholder, with 17.9% of the stock, BT's broadband television operation BT Vision could potentially be considered to be in conflict with BSkyB's pay TV operations or ITV's own pay television operations.

However, the BT appointment could also be seen to have benefits to a chief executive of ITV, potentially enhancing the two company's joint venture Project Canvas, an online TV download service that also partners with the BBC.

ITV declined comment on its appointment process, but BT chairman Michael Rake said that Ball had "an outstanding track record," and would prove "a tremendous asset" to the BT board.

In a statement Ball said that the telecoms group would play a significant role in the merging of entertainment and online.

"The convergence of the computer and the television, entertainment and communications has only just begun and it is clear BT will have an important part to play in shaping the future," he said. "I am looking forward to being part of that journey."
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