Dawn Airey bolts ITV after seven months

Will return to RTL's Five as chairman and CEO

LONDON -- In a major 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 later this year, 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 that 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. I will spend more of my time in the content business to ensure that the momentum is maintained," Grade said.

ITV said that Airey's departure is effective immediately and that she will take "an extended period of gardening leave" before taking the Five post in the summer.

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

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

Her recent history as a senior executive has been somewhat checkered. She left British Sky Broadcasting as head of content a year ago to launch production-distribution venture Iostar, which folded eight days after launching, then surprised the industry by taking up the post of head of ITV's production and sales businesses within weeks, despite turning down the job of ITV chief executive four years earlier.

Antsy Airey

1993: Joins ITV as head of daytime and children's programs
1994: Segues to Channel 4 as head of arts and entertainment
1996: Moves to Five as head of programs
2000: Rises to CEO at Five
2003: Quits to join BSkyB as head of programs.
2007: Leaves Sky to launch IoStar, which folds within eight days
2007: Rejoins ITV as head of global content within weeks
2008: Stuns industry by returning to Five as chairman and CEO