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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Sky woman with feet on the ground
Elisabeth Murdoch: Branching out
When Elisabeth Murdoch left satellite TV operation BSkyB to set up her own company she could no doubt have opted for a life of indolence.

She is after all the only daughter of a mega-rich media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

But instead of indulging in leg waxing and manicures, Elisabeth, 31, has always enjoyed getting her hands dirty.

Elisabeth grew up in Manhattan, moving there at six when her father took control of the New York Post.

She went to school at the up-market, all-girls Brearley School in the city's upper east side and studied modern European history at Vassar College.

Rupert Murdoch: Criticised over family favouritism
But she cut her broadcasting business teeth and made her reputation in 1994/95 by salvaging the fortunes of two ailing Californian cable networks with her former husband, businessman Elkin Pianim.

They bought the stations with a $35m loan from daddy and after a year of fierce cost cutting, emerged with a $12m profit.

Elisabeth, who had barely two years' management experience in television, became known as a tough operator.

Disappointed by constant on-air gaffes, she issued a directive -which came to be known as the "Three-Strikes Memo" where she warned of reprisals for production glitches. Staffers claim the note threatened firings if any newscast contained three production errors.

In 1996 she was appointed general manager and chief programmer for Sky.

I don't plan on going anywhere for a great number of years

Elisabeth Murdoch, 1998
The move led to the departure of chief executive Sam Chisholm and his deputy David Chance amid accusations that Rupert Murdoch was getting too aggressive about promoting his children.

But in 1998, after being promoted to Sky Network's managing director, she signalled that she was more than daddy's girl by announcing her intention for flagship station Sky 1 to branch out into original productions and away from favourites such as Friends and ER.

It has already been reported that comedian David Baddiel will do an innovative, improvised show taking questions from the audience.

Elisabeth even withdrew from the recent bidding (won by Channel 4 for $140m) for the new series of Friends and ER at the same time that money was being invested in original production.

However, despite her apparent willingness to roll up her shirtsleeves, she has been passed over twice for the top job at Sky.

This is thought to have led to her decision to branch out on her own. She has also made the UK her base and is currently dating British PR guru Matthew Freud.

Her decision also leaves the way open for brother Lachlan, 28, to inherit his father's job as head of the multi-national media organisation and Sky's owner, News Corp, a job which Elisabeth was once tipped for.

Lachlan Murdoch: Heir apparent
BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas told BBC News Online: "It is an acknowledgement that she is not in the running any more.

"If she was going to go any further, she would have been made head of BSkyB by now."

The mother of two now faces one of the biggest challenges of her careers, setting up a British-based venture specialising in television, film and new media content.

And even the best-connected can struggle in the TV industry, as Prince Edward has found with his production company, Ardent.

Elisabeth may be putting a positive spin on her departure from Sky but it is still something of a personal disappointment.

She told an interviewer in 1998 about her promotion earlier that year at Sky: "I've got a lot to do here. I don't plan on going anywhere for a great number of years.

"I'm very settled. It's actually nice; it's the first place that I've been in since leaving university where I'm not thinking 'I'll just be here for two years, get the experience under my belt and move on'."

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See also:

03 May 00 | Business
Elisabeth Murdoch quits Sky
15 Jun 99 | The Company File
Murdoch takes the reins at BSkyB
16 Apr 00 | Americas
Media tycoon Murdoch has cancer
15 Oct 99 | The Company File
BSkyB signs up 1.8m to digital
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