Airey tipped to replace Prebble as ITV chief

LONDON - Channel 5 chief executive Dawn Airey is understood to have emerged as ITV's preferred choice to replace former chief executive Stuart Prebble, who quit in the wake of the ITV Digital collapse.

ITV has been without a chief executive since the digital terrestrial broadcast collapsed in May and Prebble took the blame for its demise.

Joint managing directors Mick Desmond from Granada and Carlton's Clive Jones were appointed to run the station in the interim period until a new chief could be found.

However, the two could be in the post for longer than they originally imagined, due to a shortage of candidates of the right calibre in the industry at the moment.

Airey's name is being tipped as the favourite choice to run the station. Her name has also been mentioned in connection with the job left open by David Liddiment, who quit as director of channels earlier this week.

The two gaps in ITV's senior management, shows the extent of the station's troubles. ITV has suffered badly as a result of the advertising downturn. This has been compounded by the fact that programming budgets were frozen as a result of the cost of running ITV Digital.

Airey, however, is said to be happy to remain at Channel 5 where, with growing market share, it is has developed into a commercially viable rival to Channel 4 and ITV.

Airey and her deputy Nick Milligan are believed to be set to pick up large share-option packages if the station meets audience share targets and floats on the stock market.

Whether or not Airey wants the ITV job, the station's shareholders Carlton and Granada are understood to be in the process of appointing headhunters to track down a shortlist of suitable candidates.

The two companies will also begin looking for a replacement for Liddiment, who is expected to leave ITV at the end of the year.

Possible replacements are Carlton's Steve Hewlett and Granada's director of entertainment Paul Jackson. Channel 5's Kevin Lygoe is also expected to be in the frame.

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