Channel Five’s new owner wields ax

Senior exex culled; quarter of staff to be pinkslipped

LONDON — Two weeks ago CEO Dawn Airey pledged it was “business as usual” at Channel Five. Not any more.

Two weeks ago, CEO Dawn Airey pledged it would be “business as usual” at struggling terrestrial web Channel Five under new owner Richard Desmond.

In what some insiders are describing as a bloodbath, Desmond is axing most of the senior management team in an economy drive that will see 80 of the 300 staffers pinkslipped.

Airey will stay for several months to oversee the changes and then take an as yet undefined job at Five’s previous owner, RTL.

Acquisitions topper Jeff Ford steps up as director of programs following the swift exit of Richard Woolfe, signaling a likely boost for acquired shows as Desmond scales back original commissions.

Staffers at the troubled broadcaster learned of their fate Wednesday.

Desmond intends to take £20 million ($31 million) out of the business. However, the print mogul who made his fortune from pornography reiterated plans to invest about $472 million annually in Five over the next five years.

Of the nine board directors, only two will remain: Ford and sales director Kelly Williams.

Many of those who are departing are highly regarded in the U.K. TV industry, not least corporate affairs head Sue Robertson and strategy chief Charles Constable.

Observers reckon that Five will never be the same again and drew parallels with how Desmond bought the money-losing Daily Express and turned it into a cash cow by ruthlessly stripping out costs.

Desmond’s firm, Northern & Shell, said in a statement: “The savings aim to realize efficiencies deriving from Channel Five’s integration into the Northern & Shell group of companies and at the same time develop an ambitious new investment plan that will see the channel go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the TV world.”

Airey said, “The day Five was sold, my job was done. I love Five, its staff, its spirit and all we have achieved. I wish the channel, its team, Richard Desmond and Northern & Shell all the success they deserve.”

Desmond added: “While I’m sorry to see Dawn move on, I’m thrilled that she’ll be in the mix to contribute to the various exciting plans we have and oversee the acquisition and development of brilliant new content.”

The staff cuts follow the loss of almost one in four jobs last summer as Five was the U.K. terrestrial hit hardest by a dire advertising market.

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