Airey flipping back to ITV

To return as global content chief

Five years after turning down the job of CEO at ITV, Dawn Airey is returning to Britain's leading commercial broadcaster in the newly created role of director of global content, reporting to ITV COO John Cresswell.

The announcement comes a month after Airey quit as CEO of startup content and distribution venture Iostar, which has since gone bankrupt after failing to attract the necessary funding.

In her new role, the former Five CEO and British Sky Broadcasting head of programming will be responsible for developing ITV's U.K. and international production, distribution and content exploitation businesses.

Airey will take the post this year and have oversight of ITV Prods., Granada Ventures, Granada International and ITV's international production businesses in Australia, Germany and the U.S.

Together, the businesses generated revenue of £652 million ($1.3 billion) in 2006, including £370 million ($735.3 million) from the ITV network.

Airey will endeavor to grow the international profile of ITV Prods., an area which chairman and CEO Michael Grade is keen to expand.

"Dawn's arrival significantly strengthens the senior management team. She is a dynamic, creative business leader and I know that everyone in ITV will welcome her arrival," Grade said.

Insiders, however, are questioning the relationship that will evolve between Airey and director of programs Simon Shaps, who controls ITV's £1 billion ($2 billion)-a-year programming budget and has earned Grade's support by beginning a transformation of ITV's program performance.

In a performance unprecedented in recent years, ITV led the field last week at the BAFTA television awards, taking seven channel awards, significantly more than the BBC or Channel 4.

Both Shaps and Airey will be considered candidates to replace Grade as CEO when he relinquishes that role in two years, potentially setting up internal conflicts within the broadcaster.

Speaking about her appointment, Airey said it was "wonderful" to be returning to ITV, where she worked for Grade at the beginning of her career.

"It's an incredibly exciting time to be joining ITV and I'm looking forward to working with some of the U.K.'s best production talent," she said. "Together with John Whiston and his creative team, I'm confident that we can deliver the programs and content that Simon Shaps and his commissioners want in order to continue the reinvigoration of ITV1.

"ITV has strong and growing international production and distribution businesses, and I'm thrilled about having the opportunity to help develop them further," she added.

Airey has not always had such fond comments for the terrestrial broadcaster.

While at BSkyB as head of Sky Networks, she told an audience at the Royal Television Society that commercial terrestrial television "may very well be sleepwalking its way into long-term oblivion" because of its reliance on advertising sales, its lack of multichannel subscription revenue and absence of pioneering technological vision.

In the same speech, she cited ITV's tradition of infighting as "one of the main reasons I thought twice about going to work there."