UK: ‘Go Now,’ Five Tells BSkyB-Bound Airey

26 September 2002

Dawn Airey, recently and inexplicably elevated to the status of TV scheduling superstar, will not be required to serve-out her twelve month period of notice as chief executive at the UK’s recently renamed fifth terrestrial channel Five.

Airey caused a furore last weekend – not least at the ailing ITV network which had been assiduously wooing her – when she announced she was quitting Five to become chief executive at NewsCorp-controlled satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

On Tuesday, Five’s controlling shareholder RTL Group told Airey to leave forthwith despite the fact that she was contractually bound for a full year. She had occupied the hotseat at the lossmaking channel since November 2000, assuming the post of chief executive from departing incumbent David Elstein [WAMN: 30-Oct-00].

Prior to her promotion, Airey served as Five’s programme director, presiding over its so-called ‘3F’ scheduling mix – shunned by most mainstream advertisers and scorned within the industry as ‘Football, Films and F**k*ng’ [the asterisks don’t denote an attack of WAMN Grundyism, just the dislike shown by some corporate email filters of Anglo-Saxon terminology].

Over the past year, however, Five has almost imperceptibly started to shift from Airey's discredited 3F formula to a more upmarket stance garnished with quality documentaries and movies, emulating, some say, Channel 4 in its glory days. The policy is beginning to pay dividends both with advertisers and audiences. During the past year, audience share has increased from 5.7% to 6.5%.

While the changes have been broadly welcomed within the ad and media sector, some observers are asking if the present transformation from ugly duckling is due to a newly found programming virtuosity – or just an overdue onset of common sense?

Meantime, while Five faces up to the post-Airey era, deputy chief executive and advertising sales director Nick Milligan is holding the fort. Perhaps significantly, there has been no announcement yet that the permanent role of chief executive will be handed to Milligan.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff