MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - What has Dawn Airey achieved for Sky Networks?

How much has Airey really contributed to Sky's recent successes, Ian Darby asks.

The shock was palpable just over a year ago when it emerged that Dawn Airey, then the chief executive of five, was to join BSkyB as the managing director of Sky Networks.

After all, just about everybody outside five had expected Airey to fill the vacant position of chief executive at ITV Network Centre. But, when news of her flit to Sky broke in the weekend press, Airey issued a letter to staff saying: "The decision to learn about the pay-TV business was something I could not resist."

However, after almost a year in her role (Airey oversees most of Sky's output with the exception of sport), what has been her impact?

On the face of it, things couldn't have gone better. Sky is in healthy shape (total revenue up 15 per cent for the year to end of June, target of seven million customers reached and back in profit). The advertising sales side, traditionally not the mainstay of Sky's revenue, grew revenue by 13 per cent to £284 million.

But what has been Airey's contribution to this? After all, much of Sky's direction, it could be argued, was well in place before she arrived under the outgoing chief executive, Tony Ball.

Nick Milligan, the deputy chief executive of five, believes that Airey's major impact is in terms of her inclusive style and industry knowledge.

He says: "Dawn has an exceptional relationship with the regulator and could perhaps build a more inclusive approach, given the regulation that Sky will inevitably face in the future."

Also, the relaunch, last week, of Sky's movie offering has been welcomed and industry observers feel that Airey's hiring of Sophie Turner Laing, the BBC's controller of acquisitions, to run the film buying and channels business was an inspired move.

Less inspired, perhaps, was the appointment of Sara Ramsden, the head of Channel 4's factual group, to run Sky One. Ramsden lasted just over six months before being replaced by James Baker, a Sky hand with experience of Sky One.

While Sky One is Baker's headache, it is Airey's too. Reports suggest that its share of audience fell by almost 20 per cent in the year up to the end of September. A key decision for Airey and Baker will be whether to take the channel on to the Freeview platform.

On the advertising side, there has been progress under Airey. Mark Chippendale was promoted to the role of sales director and Sky has professed an ambition to be more proactive with advertisers, manifested with the appointment of the former Starcom Motive director Agostino di Falco as its head of strategic planning and the creation of an in-house creative agency to make ads for smaller advertisers.

Perhaps the main doubts that surround Airey relate to a potential clash of style. Sky, under Ball and previous chief executives, is said to have been a silo-based, aggressively competitive place. Airey's strengths might not suit this culture. According to Milligan: "One of Dawn's great assets is team play and getting the most out of people."

But then, as she did with five, maybe we can expect Airey to learn her stuff before moving on to run an even bigger show.

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