Stern's the One for Top Spot at DirecTV

News Corp. made it official Nov. 21 — Fox Television Stations Inc. chairman and CEO Mitchell Stern will step down from those positions to become president and CEO of DirecTV Inc.

Stern will assume his new role once News Corp.'s acquisition of a controlling interest in DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp. is completed, expected before year-end.

Stern had been expected to take the job and will report to Hughes president and chief executive designate Chase Carey, another former News Corp. executive.

Stern would replace existing DirecTV president and chief operating officer Roxanne Austin.

Austin was named president and COO in June 2001 and has been largely credited with its turnaround. During her tenure the DBS giant's revenue has risen 37%, subscribers have increased 34%, operating profit before depreciation and amortization has increased 360%, and monthly churn has dipped from 1.8% to 1.5%, a 17% improvement.

"I am very proud of what we have accomplished at DirecTV in the past two years," Austin said in a statement. "Serving as DirecTV's president and COO has been tremendously rewarding. I care deeply about DirecTV and its future success, but with this imminent transition I am taking the opportunity to pursue my long-term career goals and move on to new endeavors."

One source close to DirecTV said that Austin's goals include nabbing the top spot at a major company.

"She made it clear to incoming management that she has aspirations of becoming a chairwoman of a company," the source said. "There isn't that opportunity given the current circumstances at DirecTV."

Stern has been a rising star at News Corp., taking over the television station group and transforming it into one of the company's leading profit centers.

"As head of Fox Television Stations, Mitch has led a large, diverse business in a highly competitive environment," Carey said in a statement. "Under Mitch, the station group has become the industry leader and I am confident he will lead DirecTV to the top of the pay TV market if and when the acquisition is approved."

Stern joined News Corp. in 1986 as chief financial officer of the station group and from 1990 to 1992 ran station KTTV (Channel 11) in Los Angeles. He was named chief operating officer of the station group in 1992, rose to president and chief operating officer in 1993 and was elevated to chairman and CEO in 1998.

While Stern is a relative unknown in the satellite industry, he has a strong reputation in the broadcast arena. Although some reports said he has a sometimes-caustic management style, that may prove to be a plus in the rough-and-tumble satellite business.

For his part, Stern appears to be ready to take the bull by the horns.

"My job from day one will be to marry the best entertainment offerings with the most advanced and appealing technologies for the more than 12 million DirecTV subscribers," Stern said in a statement. "Viewers can expect an even better DirecTV, featuring greater programming choice, digital video recorders, more high-definition channels, more interactive services and enhanced customer service."