Airey sez ITV CEO job wasn’t offered

Sky exec ready to raise net's 'ambition'

LONDON — Sky Networks managing director Dawn Airey revealed for the first time since her appointment at U.K. satcaster BSkyB that commercial web ITV, which tried to steal her from channel Five, did not actually offer her the CEO role.

“I really wanted to go to ITV to be honest, but they didn’t offer me the job. If they fannied around for that long about appointing a chief executive I had to wonder whether the autonomy would be there,” she said at a Royal TelevisionSociety event Thursday night.

Her appointment at BSkyB last summer took the U.K. media industry by surprise as, after much speculation in the press, it was expected she would take the top job at ITV.

Airey said the ITV interview process was lengthy — but BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball offered her the job to manage Sky’s movie and entertainment channels over lunch.

“It took a long time – you’d think if anyone really wanted you they’d do it quickly. I was told by everybody that they wanted me but they never offered me the job,” said Airey.

Asked whether she is enjoying BSkyB, which is a notoriously tough place to work, Airey said: “Sky is full of ball-breakers, it’s full of individuals that want to win. But it’s very collegiate and it’s not a sea of testosterone, there’s more oestrogen there now. It’s a good place to work.”

Airey has poached Channel 4’s Sara Ramsden to run entertainment web Sky One and BBC’s Sophie Turner Laing to head acquisitions and manage Sky movie channels.

One of Airey’s priorities is to broaden Sky One’s appeal by commissioning more domestic shows and acquiring more upmarket U.S. dramas to add to its diet of sci-fi programming, “The Simpsons” and cheap U.K. docs.

“We’ve let good series go that we could have bid for like ‘The Shield’ and ’24.’ If we don’t get them, we’ll make sure somebody else pays an awful lot of money for them,” said Airey.

“We are raising our ambition. If something comes along that has a massive pricetag but could be a great flagship for the channel it wouldn’t necessarily be too expensive. If something came along that I rather fancied, I’d probably have a flutter,” she added.

Sky is expected to reveal its latest U.S. program acquisition following the L.A. Screenings by the end of June.

Ball has agreed to two or three program budget increases for Sky One since Airey joined BSkyB five months ago. Although Airey would not reveal the budget for the entertainment web she confirmed it is three times higher than Five.

Airey also reiterated that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., which owns 36% ofBSkyB, would not bid for Five if ownership rules are relaxed. “It’s absolutely not on the agenda. We don’t need channel Five,” she said.