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Murdoch 'pressured' by Sky profits

Satellite broadcaster BSkyB has heaped further pressure on News Corporation's plans to take full control of the company after it said it continued to attract more customers to its TV and broadband services.

Underlying profits at Sky increased 24% to £790m in the nine months to March 31 as new services such as the recently-launched Sky Atlantic channel helped customer numbers grow to 10.1 million.

Sky Atlantic is the home of big budget dramas produced by cable channel HBO, including Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, which was filmed in Northern Ireland.

The latest strong trading performance is likely to place more pressure on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to offer more money as it tries to buy the 61% of the company it does not already own.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to make a decision on the bid within days after News Corp offered to allow Sky News to be run as a separate company to satisfy concerns over media plurality.

Sky chief executive Jeremy Darroch described the third quarter results as "another good performance in what has clearly been a tough consumer environment."

Revenues grew 14% to £4.8bn as Sky encouraged more customers to sign up to a package of TV, telephone and broadband services. Some 26% of its customers now sign up to all three products.

This helped the average amount paid per customer to increase 8% to £544 per year.

Net customer numbers increased by 51,000 in the first three months of 2011.

Recent products include Sky Anytime Plus, which allows customers to watch movies and programmes whenever they like.

Sky also reported that the number of customers watching its high definition products increased nearly 50% over the past year to 3.7 million.