Richard Eyre escaped from the frying pan, jumped into the fire and has just bailed out again to cool off as he considers his next move. One of the media industry’s highest flying executives, he is just 46 and has been burnt twice – once at RTL Group, and before that at ITV – in the struggle to secure his ideal job as director general of the BBC.
The only surprise about this week’s announcement of his departure from Channel 5’s part-owner RTL – where he is director of strategy and content – is that it took so long coming. It had long been known that he was unhappy in the role. After all, it was not the job he joined to do 15 months ago.
He became head of Pearson TV in January last year, taking over Greg Dyke’s job, after Dyke beat him to the director general’s role at the BBC. But within weeks Pearson merged its television assets with those of CLT-Ufa to form RTL. Eyre joined Pearson as head of a TV company, but after the merger he became third in command of the group.
He was lured from his role as chief executive at ITV by a persuasive phone call from Pearson chief Marjorie Scardino. He was unhappy at ITV, caught between the conflicting interests of the network’s three owners, Granada, United News & Media and Carlton. He felt unable to fight his way through the politics that were dominated by the three companies’ tough bosses, Gerry Robinson, Lord Hollick and Michael Green. But at least he had ways to measure his performance – the peak-time viewing targets he introduced.
At RTL, he lacked such a yardstick and was subjected to more of the same, more internal politics, more backbiting rows between senior executives. Squabbles within Channel 5 between RTL and the channel’s 35 per cent-owner Lord Hollick grew worse over time, as Hollick sought to hold out on the sale of his stake and push up the price.
It is understood that Eyre has been courted by commercial rivals recently, and one source even claims that Granada chairman Charles Allen has offered him his old job back as chief executive of ITV.
Still, all is not lost. He has gained more experience in the board room and has worked in a pan-European organisation. And he has learned the hard way that life at the top is full of surprises. With the increase in corporate mergers, the sort of situation Eyre has found himself in at RTL is becoming only too common. And who knows? If Greg Dyke’s reforms at the BBC fail to take the corporation into a successful digital future, Eyre might be considered again as a candidate for the top job, this time with some more experience under his belt.