Tony Ball has officially confirmed that he is to step down from his job as chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting.

Rumours of his departure have been circulating for the past week in the UK press, with James Murdoch - son of Rupert Murdoch - being tipped to replace him.

Ball will continue as chief executive until a successor is appointed, which is likely to be well before his current contract ends on May 31 2004. Following his departure from BSkyB, Ball will become a consultant to News Corporation.

Ball joined the Company in June 1999, since when subscriber numbers have doubled to almost 7 million and BSkyB has returned to profitability.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of BSkyB, said in a statement: 'Tony Ball has shown himself to be one of the outstanding businessmen in Britain. Under his leadership Sky has successfully brought digital TV to millions of British homes. The Company now stands ready to reap the rewards of its investments. Tony leaves behind a talented group of executives and I am confident that they will continue to deliver fantastic results for all shareholders. I look forward to continuing an active association with Tony as a consultant to News Corporation across all of our television platforms.'

Ball said: 'I have enjoyed my time at Sky enormously, and am very proud of the achievements of the whole team. I leave with many happy memories and a firm belief that the Company is now well positioned to continue to deliver on its operational and financial targets. I look forward to helping to make the transition to a new Chief Executive as seamless as possible.'