Airey bolts ITV for return to RTL's Five

Sudden departure leaves Grade scrambling

In a shock to the media industry here, Dawn Airey has quit barely seven months into her role as ITV's global content head and resigned from the board. She's moving into a senior role at pan-European broadcaster RTL, becoming chairman and CEO of Five, Britain's smallest terrestrial network, where she was CEO eight years ago.

In a terse statement that did not allude to Airey's contribution or role at ITV, executive chairman Michael Grade said her responsibilities will be assumed on an interim basis by former Fox business affairs executive Lee Bartlett, the newly installed COO of ITV's global content business.

The move puts control of ITV's core domestic production businesses under the aegis of someone with little experience in British television. But Grade said that he also will step into the breach to "maintain momentum" in the global content division.

"We have assembled a strong team to lead our global content business, and they will now report to Lee," Grade said. "I will spend more of my time in the content business to ensure that the momentum is maintained."

ITV said Airey's departure is effective immediately. She will take the Five post in the summer.

RTL declined comment on ITV's surprise announcement, and it was unclear whether current Five CEO Jane Lighting was even told of the move before it hit the media. Lighting and Five chairman Remy Sauter were understood to be in talks with the RTL board.

Airey's departure will be a blow for ITV staffers. During her short period at ITV, she made major hires, including former Sony executive and Peter Iacono and Granada U.S. head Paul Buccieri. (partialdiff)