Dawn Airey to leave Five once again as Richard Desmond gets set to wield axe

CHANNEL Five stands to lose more than a quarter of its staff, including chief executive and chairman Dawn Airey, amid a major shake-up ordered by new owner Richard Desmond.

• Channel Five is to shed more than a quarter of staff as shows such as Home and Away fail to set the ratings alight

The media mogul, who bought Five for 103.5 million last month, is taking an axe to the channel's workforce as part of a "cost efficiency" programme intended to return it to profitability.

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Airey will stay on for several months to kick-start the cost drive but is expected to move to a senior management role at Five's former owner, RTL, before the end of the year.

Staff were informed of the redundancy programme at a meeting at Five's Covent Garden headquarters yesterday morning. Between 60 and 80 of the broadcaster's 300-strong workforce face the chop. The higher figure would represent almost 27 per cent of the staff.

In addition to Airey's departure, it was announced that director of programmes Richard Woolfe, director of strategy Charles Constable and managing director Mark White, would also leave within two months. In total, seven directors will follow Airey out of the door.

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, who owns the Express and OK! magazine, ordered a review of Five's operations as soon as the takeover deal with RTL completed last month. A team of executives from his firm Northern & Shell has proposed injecting 1.5 billion into Five over five years to improve programming and content.

Jeff Ford, the broadcaster's director of digital channels and acquisitions, will take over responsibility for the main channel in addition to Five USA and digital channel Fiver. His new title will be programme director for Five Channels.

Desmond's team faces a tough challenge returning Five to the black. Last year the station posted a 37 million loss amid plummeting advertising sales and former owner RTL was forced to write off €337m (277m) of debt. Media analysts warned that given its relatively small share of the TV advertising market - 8 per cent at the time - Five would struggle to survive alone.

As part of Desmond's changes, Five will revert to its previous name, Channel 5, while staff will be relocated from the firm's current premises in central London to Northern & Shell's buildings at Lower Thames Street in the City and at Docklands.

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Northern & Shell insisted the job cuts would have been more severe had Five fallen into the hands of another buyer. It suggested that up to four-fifths of the workforce would have gone had that been the case.

It is the second time Airey will depart Five. She resigned in 2002 after two years in the chief executive's seat for a job at BSkyB before returning in October 2008 in the combined chairman and chief executive role.

Famous for once saying that the station specialised in "films, football and f******", Airey was responsible for poaching a number of high-profile shows from rivals including the Australian soap opera Home & Away.

It is not yet clear what role she will move into at RTL but analysts have pointed out that the chief executive job at subsidiary Talkback Thames, which makes The Apprentice, is vacant.

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