Women's Impact Report: Executive Suite

Nobody keeps Dawn Airey quiet for long. But the U.K.’s most quotable TV exec is currently under a strict vow of silence, having quit after just eight months as ITV’s director of global content to return to her old stomping ground as chairman and CEO of rival web Five.

It was a characteristically ballsy maneuver by the 48-year-old Airey, who is now on an extended paid leave from ITV and forbidden to talk publicly about the situation until she takes up her new post in May.

Her exit from ITV was a stunning blow to the struggling network and its exec chairman, Michael Grade. He hired Airey last year to revive ITV’s production arm and to build an international content business to rival BBC Worldwide, vaunting her arrival as a major coup.

She hit the ground running, snapping up gameshow specialist 12 Yard, hiring a crack new team of execs in the U.S. and eyeing a slew of further acquisitions. But no sooner had she started than she was off, back to Five, the RTL-backed channel she helped launch as director of programs in 1997, becoming chief exec in 2000.

Faced with criticism of her pragmatic program strategy built upon the triple foundation of movies, soccer and softcore porn, Airey memorably claimed that Channel Five, as it was originally called, was about “more than just films, football and fucking.” The quote stuck as a description of the web and has followed her ever since.

When she finally takes up the reins again at Five, her challenge will be to reverse a ratings decline that started shortly after she left and to accelerate a stagnant multichannel strategy that was slow out of the blocks. How she intends to do this is anyone’s guess, since Airey isn’t talking. Some pundits are even speculating that RTL could bid for ITV. One thing’s for sure — when the gag comes off, things are going to get lively.

Role model: “KRM — Rupert Murdoch”

Three things in life I can’t do without: “My family, TV on all platforms, chocolate.”

Fave leisure activity: “Rearing ducks.”

Career mantra: “It’s the most adaptable who survive.”

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