The sky's the limit for viewer appetite for Game of Thrones

London (AFP) - Shareholders at European pay-TV giant Sky voted in favour of re-electing James Murdoch as chairman on Thursday, despite concerns about his impartiality in the face of its possible takeover by his father Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

More than 78 percent of voting investors backed the younger Murdoch’s re-election at an annual general meeting at Sky’s London headquarters, hours after the company said in a trading update that its subscriber base has swelled on demand for cult US series Game of Thrones.

Some investor groups had expressed unease over James Murdoch serving any longer, in light of his other role as chief executive of 21st Century Fox – which is seeking to buy the 61 percent of Sky it does not already own.

The takeover of Sky is being held up by a UK investigation into the proposed deal worth £11.7 billion ($15.4 billion, 13 billion euros).

One angry shareholder argued that the deal would be held up as long as James Murdoch remained in his post, which he held from 2007 to 2012 and more recently since January 2016.

“If everything remains the same (on the board) you have no chance of the deal going through,” the shareholder told the meeting.

“There’s nothing wrong with Mr Murdoch – but it is because of the name.”

James Murdoch did not address the audience or journalists during the meeting in Sky’s new headquarters, leaving chief executive Jeremy Darroch to address the flurry of anxieties expressed by shareholders about the deal.

Besides James Murdoch, two other members of Sky’s board hold executive roles with 21st Century Fox.

- ‘Influence over public opinion’ -

UK regulators on Tuesday said its probe into the proposed Fox deal would assess Rupert Murdoch’s influence on Britain’s political landscape.

Britain’s Competitions and Markets Authority will scrutinise the impact of the Murdoch family’s proposed deal on both broadcasting standards and media plurality.

The CMA will seek to prevent “any one media owner, or voice, having too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”.

The ability of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) to “control or influence editorial and commercial decisions” at Sky News, a 24-hour news channel broadcast from London, will come under the microscope.

The CMA will also assess the current state of plurality within the UK media, and the commitment to accuracy in newspapers controlled by the MFT’s News Corp division, including The Times and The Sun.

- Game of Thrones -

Hours before the shareholder meeting, Sky announced that its subscriber base shot up by 160,000 new customers in the three months to late September, up 51 percent on a year earlier.

Revenues grew five percent to £3.3 billion over the same period.

Underlying profit, which strips out items such as tax and interest payments, jumped 11 percent to £582 million.

“We’ve had a strong start to our new financial year with good revenue growth and excellent profit growth,” said Darroch.

“Game of Thrones has become the most watched series ever on Sky,” he added.

Sky has exclusive rights to US broadcasting giant HBO’s television catalogue, which includes the current season of the award-winning show.