Airey tipped to become next ITV chief executive

LONDON - Dawn Airey, the chief executive of Channel 5 is at the centre of renewed speculation that she is set to join ITV as its new chief executive.

Airey has been linked to the post since Stuart Prebble resigned the position in May following the collapse of ITV Digital.

The job has been filled in the interim by Mick Desmond and Clive Jones from ITV's largest shareholders Granada and Carlton Communications respectively, who are running the company as joint managing directors.

Airey has held the top post at Channel 5 for 21 months since she replaced David Elstein, who unexpectedly quit in October 2000.

Since then she has grown the channel's audience and advertising share and won crucial programming money from its warring shareholders RTL and United Business Media.

It is thought to be these skills that have made her favourite among candidates for the job.

However, this could change as the companies prepare to merge, following today's announcement that they are to combine a number of operations, including marketing and programming, which it is hoped will improve their financial performance and make them more attractive to advertisers.

It is thought that Airey could be tempted by a fresh challenge following her success at Channel 5. She is tipped to receive a large bonus if Channel 5 reaches its audience targets this year.

ITV's £775m programming budget is five and a half times the size of Channel 5's £140m and there is a great deal of work to be done at ITV, which has been struggling against falling ratings and advertising revenues.

Other candidates high up on the list for the chief executive role include Lorraine Heggessey, controller of BBC1 and Kevin Lygo, Channel 5's director of programmes.

Within ITV, Steve Hewlett, Carlton's director of programmes, and Grant Mansfield, direct of Granada's content division, are also being touted for the job.

Airey had recently been linked to the job of director of programming at ITV, following David Liddiment's resignation last month.

ITV is understood to be keen to fill the post before the autumn schedule is announced at the end of this month.

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