News Corp is positioning this as a newly-created role, but it sounds remarkably similar to the one James's brother Lachlan - who was then seen as the heir apparent - used to have before he quit back in 2005. James will now have a group-wide remit; as well as becoming chairman and chief exec of News Corp's international businesses (so he'll still oversee Europe and Asia), he'll be tasked with adding 'new dimensions' to the company's 'core businesses' too. In all of this, he will 'work closely' with his father, News Corp said today. So the succession angle looks pretty clear.
James has always looked like the heir apparent in recent years, but the waters seemed to have been muddied slightly since Rupert bought his highly-regarded daughter Elisabeth's production business Shine for £415m (to the chagrin of some investors). She re-joined the board as part of this deal, and there has been speculation that she might end up getting the get the nod instead of her brother. But it doesn't look like it, on this evidence.
James has certainly done a pretty good job of proving his worth since he started working for his father; after a period turning around some of News Corp's businesses in Asia, he was parachuted into the top job at Sky, which has (by and large) gone from strength to strength ever since - thanks partly to his decision to invest in technology like HD and 3D. His profile has been lower since taking on the international role, but he's already had some success in places like India and Germany.
One intriguing aspect of this move is the potential consequences for the UK business. James has been based in London since 2003; now he's on the other side of the Atlantic, the UK may feel a little further from News Corp's centre of gravity. At a time when it may be trying to integrate the rest of BSkyB into the empire, that could have some interesting consequences.