Rupert Murdoch's eldest son, Lachlan Murdoch, has been appointed deputy COO at News Corp, making him the company's third highest ranking executive behind his father and president and COO Peter Chernin.

The 29-year-old is currently in charge of News Corp's US print and publishing operations, and has been chairman and CEO of News Ltd in Australia since 1997.

Observers believe Lachlan is being lined up to eventually succeed Rupert Murdoch, although Chernin is expected to replace him in the short-term. News Corp's shares slid 5.3% on the Australian Stock Exchange today (October 6), but analysts said the slide was due to concerns about the US economy and New Corp's earnings rather than the appointment.

Lachlan takes up the post at a crucial time for News Corp as it gears up to bid for US satellite operator DirecTV, following a share-swap deal with John Malone's Liberty Media (ScreenDaily, September 27). The company is also in the process of folding its existing satellite assets into Sky Global Networks, which is expected to float with a price-tag of about $40bn before the end of the year.

The question of who will succeed Rupert Murdoch was raised earlier this year when Lachlan's younger brother James was named chairman and CEO of News Corp's Asian television platform Star TV. Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth, dropped out of the succession race at about the same time when she quit her post as managing director of Sky Networks at the UK's BSkyB. She recently took up a non-executive director position on the board of UK publisher Future Network.