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Sir Richard Branson may have lashed out at Rupert Murdoch this week but the Murdoch most investors are watching like never before is his son, James.

He has been chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting for three years but the purchase of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV a week ago could be the defining moment of his career at the satellite broadcaster.

The plan was hatched 10 days ago over cheeseburgers at midnight in Barcelona, where he was attending a Morgan Stanley conference.

He was there with Jeremy Darroch, his finance director, and Andrew Griffith, his head of corporate finance.

Together, they plotted their intervention in the battle for control of ITV sparked by a takeover approach from NTL, BSkyB's cable rival in which Sir Richard Branson is the largest investor.

Mr Murdoch's swoop on ITV shares caught analysts, investors and media peers completely off guard, not least because Mr Murdoch had casually told the Barcelona conference on Wednesday morning that he did not see “much of an impact” from NTL's approach to ITV.

It also infuriated Sir Richard, in effect putting paid to NTL's hopes of gaining control of ITV and prompting his attack this week on Mr Murdoch's father, Rupert, as a “threat to democracy”.

“One of the most interesting things about this story is that three or four days before, he'd been very blasé and derisive about NTL's move,” says Peter Bazalgette, chief creative director of Endemol, the Deal Or No Deal producer.

“What does it say about him that within three or four days he did a complete U-turn? Did he change his mind? It means he reacted very, very quickly, which has all the hallmarks of his dad.”

The investment, widely described as a spoiling tactic, almost exactly mirrored his father's own move a few weeks before on the shares of John Fairfax, a rival Australian publisher, which bought News Corp a say in the consolidation of Australia's media industry.

But people close to the company say Rupert Murdoch, BSkyB's chairman, only became involved late in the day. He was briefed on Wednesday evening before Lord Rothschild, the senior independent director, convened a board meeting at 5pm on Thursday to approve the strategy. “The chairman”, as his son calls him, joined in by phone from Australia.

The ITV investment was unexpected in more ways than one, according to one media analyst. “James has a background in new media; he almost prefers it. Given where his interests lie, his ITV [stake] acquisition is pretty uncharacteristic, which points to it being a tactical or slightly defensive move.”

James's new media credentials, earnt while overseeing News Corp's first stab at an internet strategy in the late- 1990s, at first marked him out as a geek among the UK television industry's “creatives”. But as the previously separate media, telecommunications and technology industries have converged, they have positioned him well.

“I think he's excited by technology rather than beleaguered by it,” one headhunter says. “Pretty much all media executives get it now but James has been excited about it for longer.”

The confidence of his analysis of technology shifts and changing consumer behaviour was on show the day before his Barcelona trip, when he warned the Interactive Advertising Bureau that advertisers were not grasping the opportunity of new technology by treating the internet as a separate marketplace.

“This view ignores the real revolution that is approaching, which is about the connectedness of all media,” he says. The intensity with which Mr Murdoch lectures audiences on such matters earnt him a reputation after joining Sky in 2003 of not suffering fools gladly. Industry peers say the angry young man of British media has since mellowed considerably.

His belief in the need to keep ahead of rapid technology change has run through much of his activity this year, however.

In 12 months, BSkyB has signed mobile television deals, paid up for multimedia rights for Premier League football, built out its video download service and, most notably, made a £400m investment in launching a broadband internet access service.

Such investments have come at a cost. Analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote this week: “We are increasingly concerned with Sky's need to invest to cope with a more competitive environment and the payback of its broadband investment.”

Competition from a newly merged cable rival in NTL, the popular Freeview platform, BT's move into online television and a host of broadband providers has given doubters plenty of reasons to worry. While some admire Mr Murdoch's ability to place vast bets on changes in his marketplace faster than many rivals, many analysts say these have also added to the uncertainty.

Talk of “the Murdoch discount” – that other investors come second to the long-term ambitions of News Corp, which owns almost 40 per cent of BSkyB – has revived since the ITV deal.

Although the stock has become popular with value investors, many traditional UK institutions remain underweight and the shares have lagged behind media peers by 17 per cent in two years.

Insiders point to significant, if more subtle, achievements in that time: changing the company's marketing message to broaden its appeal; improving the company's understanding of its customers; reorganising the group to tackle cross- functional projects more coherently; and making BSkyB a leader in its industry in adopting carbon neutrality – an area where Rupert Murdoch is now following his son's lead.

The payback from these, as from splashier moves such as the investments in broadband and ITV, remains uncertain but its chief executive is unshaken on the long-term vision.

“TV networks, publishers, movie studios, music companies and even internet companies are all trying to figure out how they fit into a media marketplace that is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be and a lot more disobedient,” he told the IAB.

虽然李察•布莱信爵士(Sir Richard Branson)上周猛烈抨击了新闻集团(News Corp)董事长鲁珀特•默多克(Rupert Murdoch),但这回大多数投资者空前关注的那个默多克,却是鲁珀特的儿子——詹姆斯•默多克(James)。

三年来,詹姆斯•默多克一直是英国天空广播公司(British Sky Broadcasting)的首席执行官,但在他卫星广播领域的职业生涯中,一周前收购英国独立电视台(ITV)17.9%股份的行动,将可能是个具有决定意义的时刻。

在收购前10天的一个午夜,詹姆斯•默多克吃着干酪汉堡包制定出了这个计划。当时他正在巴塞罗那出席摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)的一次会议。

和他一起在那里的,还有天空广播公司的首席财务官杰里米•达罗克(Jeremy Darroch)、公司并购业务负责人安德鲁•格里菲思(Andrew Griffith)。

他们共同策划,决定介入英国有线电视集团NTL收购独立电视台控股权的竞购战。NTL是天空广播的有线电视业务竞争对手,李察•布莱信爵士是其最大投资者。

詹姆斯•默多克对独立电视台股份的突袭,完全出乎分析人士、投资者和传媒同行的意外,其中相当重要的原因在于,他曾在11月22日早晨的巴塞罗那会议上漫不经心地表示,从NTL对独立电视台的行动中,他看不到什么“大的影响”。

这也激怒了布莱信,它实际上使NTL控制独立电视台的愿望破灭了,并引发了他上周对詹姆斯•默多克的父亲——鲁珀特•默多克——的抨击,称其是“对民主的威胁”。

Endemol创意总监彼得•巴扎尔杰特(Peter Bazalgette)表示:“这件事中最有趣的一点是,就在三四天前,他还对NTL的举措非常不屑且嘲笑不已。”Endemol是游戏节目《一掷千金》(Deal Or No Deal)的制作商。

“他在三四天之内来个180度大转弯说明了什么呢?他改变了自己的想法?这说明他反应非常迅速,有他父亲的全部特点。”

外界普遍认为,此次投资是一种破坏战术,与数周前他父亲买入约翰费法斯控股公司(John Fairfax)股份的行动几乎如出一辙。澳大利亚出版商约翰费法斯控股公司是新闻集团(News Corp)的竞争对手,在澳大利亚传媒业整合进程中,老默多克的上述行动为新闻集团夺得了发言权。

但了解该公司的人士称,身为英国天空广播公司董事长的老默多克当天晚些时候才参与此事。11月22日傍晚,他获得简单通报,随后,资深独立董事罗思柴尔德勋爵(Lord Rothschild)于次日晚5点召集一次董事会会议,批准了该项策略。“董事长”——他儿子这么叫他——通过电话在澳大利亚参加了这次会议。

一位传媒分析人士称,对独立电视台的投资出人意料,且不只表现在一个方面。“詹姆斯在新媒体方面有一定背景;他似乎更热衷于此。鉴于他的兴趣所在,他对独立电视台(股权)的收购极其反常,表明它是一个战术或有些防御意味的行动。”

20世纪90年代末,新闻集团首次涉足互联网战略,当时负责的詹姆斯·默多克由此获得了新媒体方面的资历。起初,这种资历曾使他成为英国电视行业“创新人物”中的一个另类。但随着原先分散的媒体,电信和科技行业逐步融合,他获得了良好的市场地位。

“我认为科技令他兴奋,而不是令他烦恼,”一位猎头人士表示,“如今,几乎所有传媒高管都知道了科技的重要,但詹姆斯早就对此兴奋了。”

詹姆斯·默多克对科技转变和客户行为变化的分析充满信心,这在他去巴塞罗那的前一天就有所表现,当时,他警告美国互动广告(IAB)称,由于将互联网作为一种单独的市场,广告客户没有抓住新科技带来的机遇。

他表示:“他们忽略了日益逼近的真正革命,一场关于媒体连通性的革命。”由于就这些问题向听众发表演讲时热情洋溢,詹姆斯·默多克在2003年加入天空广播公司之后获得了这样的名声:他不会对蠢人保持耐心。但业界同行表示,这位英国传媒的“愤青”自那时起已成熟了许多。

詹姆斯·默多克认为,需要在迅速变化的科技之前率先行动。这一信念贯穿了他今年的大部分活动。

在12个月内,天空广播公司签订了移动电视协议,付清了转播英超联赛(Premier League)的多媒体版权,扩建了自己的视频下载服务,最惹人注目的是投资4亿英镑,用于启动一项宽带互联网接入服务。

这些投资已付出了代价。高盛(Goldman Sachs)分析师上周写道:“对于天空广播为应付更激烈竞争环境而投资的必要性,以及其宽带投资的回报情况,我们越来越关注。”

新出现的有线电视竞争对手NTL、备受欢迎的Freeview数字电视平台、英国电信(BT)向在线电视的进军,以及众多的宽带供应商等多方面的竞争,已经让怀疑者们有了充分的担忧理由。虽然一些人推崇詹姆斯·默多克,认为他有能力比许多竞争对手更迅速地大举押注市场变革,但许多分析人士表示,这也增加了不确定性。

自独立电视台交易以来,“默多克折扣”(the Murdoch discount)的说法再次复苏:对于新闻集团长期的雄心壮志而言,其他投资者都处于次要地位。新闻集团大约持有天空广播40%的股份。

尽管天空广播的股票受到价值投资者欢迎,但许多英国传统机构投资者对该股的配置仍然较少,其两年内的股价表现落后传媒同行17%。

公司内部人士提到了在此期间颇有意义(即便比较细微)的成就:改变公司的营销信息,以扩大吸引力;改善公司对客户的理解;进行集团重组,更连贯地解决跨职能的项目;在碳中和方面,将天空广播公司打造成业内领军企业——在这个领域,鲁珀特•默多克现正跟随他儿子的步伐。

就像投资宽带和独立电视台等较引人注目的行动一样,上述成就的回报仍不确定,但公司首席执行官詹姆斯·默多克的长期目标仍非常坚定。

他向美国互动广告(IAB)表示:“电视网络、出版商、电影制片厂、音乐公司,甚至是互联网公司,都在努力解决这样一个问题:它们将如何适应比过去复杂得多、叛逆得多的传媒市场。”
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