New venture lures Airey from BSkyB

Takes top post at Lostar this spring

LONDON -- BSkyB programming chief Dawn Airey will not renew her contract with the satellite broadcaster when it expires next spring, leaving instead to head start-up talent and content venture Lostar, it was announced Monday.

The news comes as sources suggest that Sky Italia chief executive Tom Mockridge is being lined up as heir apparent to replace BSkyB CEO James Murdoch, who is expected to take up a new position at News Corp. in the second half of next year. Both Sky Italia and BSkyB are majority-owned by News Corp.

Airey, who has been managing director of Sky Networks since 2003 and last year added responsibility for Sky's interactive content to her brief, is widely regarded as one of the U.K.'s most creative managers and was thought of as a candidate to succeed ITV chief executive Charles Allen when he stepped down in the summer.

"Dawn has made a significant contribution to Sky's appeal to millions of customers. She has been a valued colleague and a trusted friend. When the time comes, we will wish her well for the future," Murdoch said.

In a statement, BSkyB said Airey will remain involved with Sky until the spring.

"Sky today announced that Dawn Airey, its managing director of channels and services, intends to leave the company next year to take up a new position as chief executive of Lostar Ltd.," the statement said.

Airey "will continue to play a significant role at Sky until spring 2007" and "will support the transition to a new management structure," it added.

At BSkyB, Airey is responsible for an annual budget of £819 million ($1.6 billion), signing off on deals including the recent $80 million acquisition of Seasons 3 and 4 of "Lost" and the acquisition of pay rights to new Bond film "Casino Royale" for an undisclosed sum last month.

"Dawn has shown great leadership at every stage in her career. I'm constantly blown away by the number of people who just worship her," said Tom Toumazis, executive vp and managing director of Buena Vista International Television. "The more you see of her, the more you see her continually take on new challenges. She (also) had the insight a lot earlier than most about how connected programming was with the commercial side of the business."

At Lostar, she will be chief executive of a group made up of a television production division, a talent management operation and a theatrical production business, a company spokesman said.

The spokesman declined comment on how much investment capital the start-up will command and said financing is not yet completed.

Sky is looking for a replacement to take charge of its portfolio of entertainment assets in television and other platforms, including Sky One, Sky Two, Sky Three, Sky Movies, Sky Travel and Artsworld.

Sky chief operating officer Mike Darcey will take over responsibility for advertising sales, the broadband Internet portal, joint ventures, channel distribution agreements and commercial relationships with third-party channels, while Sky Sports managing director Vic Wakeling adds responsibility for Sky News to his existing role.