Featured Player: Jane Lighting

Shedding light on new Five CEO

LONDON — When Jane Lighting started work this week as chief executive of Five, Blighty’s fastest-growing terrestrial web, it’s fair to assume most of her staff didn’t recognize her.

She has worked in the U.K. TV biz for more than 20 years, recently running Telewest-owned cable and satellite programmer Flextech, yet Lighting has steadfastly shunned the limelight.

Since she was appointed in early February, much of the industry has been asking itself: “Who exactly is Jane Lighting?”

“I suppose the real reason why people don’t know Jane is because she hasn’t come up through the traditional route of the BBC, ITV or Channel 4,” surmises her old boss, ex-Telewest CEO Adam Singer.

“But I can think of no one better equipped to run Five. Jane is a very, very good manager and a superb saleswoman who knows her content really well. I just love her.”

Despite Singer’s praises, other veteran broadcasters remain skeptical and wonder why Five’s main owner, pan-European media group RTL, finally signed Lighting after five months of head-hunting when other, arguably better qualified candidates were said to be shortlisted for the job.

“Frankly, I was gobsmacked when I heard Jane Lighting was in the running to be Five’s new CEO,” says one of the doubters. “I keep asking myself did she get the job because she’s extremely good at selling herself or whether she has a coherent strategy for Five.”

It’s true that the immaculately turned-out Lighting, 46, not only lacks the high profile of her two outspoken predecessors, David Elstein and Dawn Airey, she also has no real hands-on commissioning or scheduling experience.

But Lighting will be able to delegate to a tried and trusted team: She has a strong director of programs, Kevin Lygo; a highly regarded acquisitions maven, Jeff Ford; and a veteran scheduler, Ashley Hill.

Independently wealthy since she sold the U.K. boutique distrib she created in 1995, Minotaur Intl., to Flextech for a reputed £4 million ($6.2 million), Lighting began her media career as a secretary for video sales outfit Crown Cassette Communications.

She subsequently worked in marketing for thesp John Cleese’s corporate video producer, Video Arts, before climbing the greasy pole to become head of distribution at sister company, Video Arts Television.

At Flextech, where she managed a suite of digital channels including the U.K. TV stable (jointly owned with the BBC), Lighting was praised for increasing ad revenues during a media recession.

“People see a glamorous package,” says ex-Flextech colleague David Docherty, “but what they don’t see is a steely middle. She is fantastically strong-willed.”

At Five her biggest challenge involves persuading RTL, owner of 65% of the company, to make a substantial investment in the program budget, now about $210 million.

“Five’s audience share has stalled at around 6.3, 6.4, and that is not sufficient,” says a senior British broadcaster.

“To increase the share to 7% or 8%, and then become a real threat to Channel 4, requires an extra $56 million to $70 million a year.

“Without that investment the station is going nowhere. If RTL is not willing to put in more money, they should let someone come in who is prepared to grow the business.”

RTL’s new CEO, Gerhard Zeiler, last month ruled out selling the station, a star performer for the group in 2002 as it bucked the advertising downturn, albeit from a low base.

“We have 100% support for Five. It has a real potential to be one of the main players in the U.K.,” Zeiler said.

So will Lighting succeed in getting RTL to ante up? Frankly, most observers reckon she faces a nearly impossible task.

But then again, many of these people never expected her to land the top job in the first place.

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