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John Fellet leaves Sky TV at a tough time

Sky Network Television's long-standing chief executive John Fellet says he plans to retire within the next year, after 17 years running the country's dominant pay-TV company.

Fellet joined Sky as chief operating officer in 1991 and took on the role of chief executive in January 2001. Sky chair Peter Macourt said a global search process would be undertaken, including New Zealand-based and internal candidates, and Fellet would remain as CEO until a successor is found. He will also continue as a director after stepping down from his executive role,

When Fellet first joined Sky some 27 years ago, the service had only launched the previous year, and had 125 employees and three channels. It expanded under his leadership to more than 1,100 staff but has more recently been losing customers and slashing prices in the face of cheaper on-demand rivals.

"John has been the driving force behind Sky’s success for many years," Macourt said in a statement. "He has made an enormous contribution to our business, and to the television industry in New Zealand. We are grateful for his work and commitment to Sky, and for the succession process he has instigated, which will allow a careful search for the right individual to take the reins at Sky.”

Last month, Auckland-based Sky said it had lost 37,359 customers in the six months ended December 31, including the 10,608 it shed with the closure of its Fatso DVD rental unit, leaving it with 778,776 subscribers at the end of 2017. The reduction in customer numbers trimmed subscriber-related costs and Sky spent less on programming. First-half net profit rose to $66.6 million from $59.3 million a year earlier as sales fell 5.5 percent. The company cut its interim dividend in half in an effort to cope with the rapidly changing environment and (some commentators said) build up a war chest for a potential fight for future Rugby World Cup rights.

Sky has been contending with the rise of online alternatives such as Netflix and Spark New Zealand's Lightbox, driving up the cost of content and syphoning off customers attracted to cheaper and more convenient offerings. It had hoped to counter that by merging with telecommunications carrier Vodafone New Zealand but was rejected by the Commerce Commission over competition fears, and it's been forced to change tack and offer cheaper entry-level services.

The company's shares last traded at $2.32, having dropped 39 percent over the past year. Three analysts have 'sell' recommendations on the stock, one a 'strong sell', and two a 'hold', according to Reuters data.

(BusinessDesk)

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