Does it matter who runs Sky as long as it's doing well?

When I'm thinking of Rupert Murdoch, which I do frequently, I see a scorpion's body with his head attached, writes Ian Darby.

Not an attractive image, I'll grant you and I can't even rationalise it. Perhaps it's something to do with the rapacious, individualistic, survivalist nature of companies such as News International and BSkyB but more likely it's because I tend to resent anyone I pay as much as a penny to each month.

But now, with reports suggesting that Murdoch's youngest son, James, is set to replace Tony Ball as BSkyB's chief executive, I might have to tone down the poisonous associations. Because Murdoch certainly seems prone to protecting his own family and dedicated to strengthening the fragile potential of building a media dynasty.

And what a dynasty it is, with a Hollywood film studio, pay-TV stations and newspapers round the world. News Corporation may look modern as hell, but it's actually the world's biggest family business. Last year, as his elder son Lachlan was installed in the publisher's role at the New York Post, Murdoch assured investors that he wasn't running the company as a dynasty but it is easy to argue otherwise. James Murdoch was successful in managing News Corp's Asian Star TV satellite operation but a top-20, London-listed plc? Surely there are more qualified candidates.

And what of the many leading UK Murdoch lieutenants who have acheived much on the local stage but have never gone on to be a global player at News Corp? You only have to think of bosses such as Andrew Neil (a former editor of The Sunday Times and managing director at Sky) and the former Sun editor Stuart Higgins (widely tipped to be taking a role at News Corp when he left the paper in 1998 only to move into celebrity PR) to realise how difficult it is to climb the Murdoch ladder.

The announcement that Tony Ball is take a role as a consultant to News Corp when he steps down from Sky hardly implies that he's going to be a key force in taking News Corp forward. His predecessor as the Sky chief executive, Sam Chisholm, did not move onwards and upwards within the News Corp firmament.

There has been muttering in the City surrounding the apparently nepotistic way that Murdoch runs his businesses and analysts are already suggesting that Murdoch Senior will step aside as BSkyB chairman as a sop to those who say things are getting too incestuous.

Murdoch Junior's appointment is yet to be confirmed, but whatever happens, his father's powerful influence will still be felt. And, as long as BSkyB continues to perform, few will care. But Stateside analysts, wary that Fox News' gung-hoism is turning off viewers, and waiting to see if he makes a go of DirecTV, are murmuring that Murdoch's sting is not as strong as it was.

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