Rupert Murdoch wants one of his key lieutenants to run DirecTV, the satellite TV provider that News Corp. hopes to control by the end of the year, according to sources close to the situation.
Murdoch's top choice for the job is Mitchell Stern, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp.'s highly profitable Fox Television Stations group, the sources say. These sources caution that a contract hasn't been signed by Stern, a temperamental executive whose current employment agreement expires next month.
Under this scenario, Murdoch's oldest son, Lachlan, whom Stern has been grooming for the last several years, would take a more active roll in day- to-day operations at Fox, according to News Corp. sources. That would elevate the profile of 32-year-old Lachlan, who has largely concentrated on the company's newspaper operations, including the New York Post.
Fox generates more profit than any other News Corp. operation.
At DirecTV, Stern would replace Roxanne Austin, who is credited with dramatically improving DirecTV's performance since taking over as president in mid-2001. During the third quarter, DirecTV beat rival EchoStar Communications Corp. in subscriber growth for the first time in more than a year. Austin is under contract until the News Corp. purchase is completed.
Murdoch, News Corp.'s chairman, and other executives had insisted they had no plans to change DirecTV's top management team. Yet speculation about Austin's replacement has been rampant.
Neither News Corp. nor DirecTV would comment.