Murdoch acts to block Booth exit

Rupert Murdoch has fought off an attempt by Microsoft to poach BSkyB chief executive Mark Booth but has had to set up a new media company to keep his valued executive.

Booth is expected to leave the company in the next six weeks to become chief executive of start-up business e-partners, which will explore opportunities on the Internet and in interactive TV, with 187m of News Corporation backing.

Booth, who took up his post in November 1997, is credited with the fastest launch of a digital TV service in the world. Sky has acquired about 450,000 digital subscribers since its launch on October 1.

Murdoch says: “Booth has done an outstanding job. He will leave the company in great shape.”

Sources close to Sky say he was offered a lucrative package to run Microsoft’s Net business. To block the move, Murdoch offered him the e-partners deal. Booth is understood to own a large stake in the company.

Microsoft refused, and Booth was unavailable, to comment.

A former senior Sky executive says: “Booth has seen how much money Sam Chisholm [former chief executive officer and managing director] and David Chance [former deputy managing director] have made since they left the company. Booth is a millionaire, but this deal will potentially make him tens of millions.”

Other sources close to the company say Booth is being sidelined for his part in the failed bid to buy Manchester United. Others add that in the aborted BSkyB and Canal Plus merger, a Canal Plus executive was proposed as head of the merged company, which prompted Booth to look at career options outside Sky.

However, one City analyst adds: “Booth is not the quitting kind. If Murdoch wanted to get rid of him, he wouldn’t spend 187m to do it.”

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