C5’s Airey exits early

Speculation on BSkyB, terrestrial tie-up

LONDON — Channel 5’s CEO Dawn Airey is leaving the 5-year-old commercial TV network Friday, despite a 12-month notice period in her contract.

It’s not clear when she will start her new job with pay TV broadcaster BSkyB as managing director of Sky Networks. But board members of C5’s majority shareholder RTL could announce their decision by the end of this week.

RTL boss Didier Bellens met Airey Monday to discuss her exit. Airey’s deputy, Nick Milligan, will be acting CEO while C5 hunts for a replacement — he is also expected to be a candidate for the full-time job.

Airey will take charge of all BSkyB programming, except Sky Sports, and one of her first jobs will be to launch a new channel showcasing films and entertainment programs to complement Sky One.

Rumors rife

There is growing speculation in the press that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., a key shareholder in BSkyB, could snap up United Business Media’s 35% stake in C5 if British media ownership rules are loosened next year.

Whether Murdoch would be interested in a minority shareholding is debatable, but it would give him a valuable foothold in the U.K. terrestrial TV market.

BSkyB has already secured carriage for some of its channels, including Sky News and Sky One, through its deal with the BBC on new digital terrestrial platform Freeview, which is scheduled to launch this fall.

RTL, Europe’s largest TV group — which is controlled by Germany’s Bertelsmann — has repeatedly stated that it is determined to remain a majority shareholder in C5, recently rebranded as Five.

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