BSkyB snares Ch. 5’s Airey

Move shows satcaster serious about beefing up content

LONDON — In a surprise move guaranteed to send shockwaves through ITV and Channel 5, satcaster BSkyB is expected to announce that it has poached Channel 5 CEO Dawn Airey as managing director of Sky Networks.

Airey is credited with the success of Channel 5, which has seen its audience share increase from 5.7% to 6.5% in the last year; she was being courted by ratings-challenged ITV to become its CEO.

In a bid to keep Airey, Channel 5’s majority shareholder RTL agreed to invest an additional £9 million ($14 million) next year, bringing the total programming budget to $246 million. ITV, which has been talking to Airey for three months, also upped its budget by a further $77 million to a record $1.278 billion last week.

Sky’s decision to hire Airey clearly demonstrates the satcaster is serious about beefing up its content, particularly on entertainment net Sky One.

Airey will be responsible for all Sky channels, including three new services being developed for carriage on the BBC’s digital terrestrial platform Freeview. She will report to Sky TV CEO Tony Ball.

Meanwhile, ITV is understood to have approached Michael Grade, who left Channel 4 as CEO five years ago to oversee the revival of Pinewood Studios, to fill the top job. Michael Jackson, currently president and CEO of USA Entertainment and former CEO of Channel 4, is also rumored to be interested.

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