Sky's chief operating officer Richard Freudenstein will leave the company and return to his home country, Australia, next year.

"After nearly seven years in the UK, the time has come for our family to return home," he explained. "James [Murdoch] and I decided to announce the move now to give us plenty of time to effect a seamless transition. While I am proud of having helped Sky reach its current heights, I'm entirely focused on important milestones ahead and am absolutely sure that the best at Sky is yet to come."

Freudenstein will depart Sky "in the summer of 2006," Sky said in a press release. He will, however, continue in his role overseeing the launch of Sky's HD product until he leaves.

"From acquiring rights, to spearheading HD and heading the company's customer operations and commercial relationships, Richard has played a major role in helping Sky set the pace in subscription TV," said Sky CEO James Murdoch. "Richard is a valued colleague, close collaborator and friend. When the time comes, he will be missed."