Tony Hall announced his shock decision to stand down as BBC director general on Monday, sparking what is likely to be a six-month race to be his successor. A job advert is already being prepared by the BBC board and prospective candidates will likely be dusting off their resumes for one of the most prestigious roles in British media.
Whoever prospers will walk into the BBC’s headquarters in central London to a bulging in-tray of priorities. Hall’s successor will have to negotiate the BBC’s future funding and operating agreement with, what appears to be, a hostile government, emboldened by Boris Johnson’s thumping election win last year.
Other priorities include building on Hall’s legacy of launching BBC Studios as a commercial entity, developing radio, music and podcast app BBC Sounds, and cleaning up a messy equal pay dispute that has become a protracted and toxic problem under the current director general. The BBC’s diversity gap and reaching young audiences are other issues that need resolving, as well as maintaining trust in the corporation’s news output.
Then there is the small matter of keeping the BBC thriving at a time when U.S. media and tech giants, like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney, are gathering strength and increasingly encroaching on the British public broadcaster’s turf, hoovering up audiences and talent such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
There will only be a small pool of candidates capable of handling such a giant undertaking. Below are some names already linked with Hall’s £450,000 ($585,000)-a-year job, and expect more names to emerge over the coming weeks.
Charlotte Moore, director of content, BBC
The widely-held view in British media circles is that the BBC is ready to appoint its first female leader. Charlotte Moore is well-placed to step up having been the BBC’s television boss since July 2016, a role that has proved to be a path to the top job in the past. She has overseen a period of strength for BBC One — the channel that is often a litmus test for the BBC’s health — commissioning hits including Bodyguard, Blue Planet II and Gavin & Stacey, the latter of which was the most-watched show in the UK a decade. Whether she has the appetite to succeed Hall remains to be seen, but insiders tell Deadline she is the woman to beat.
Tim Davie, CEO, BBC Studios
Tim Davie is another strong internal candidate for the top job. He was temporarily in charge of the BBC before Hall arrived, stepping up as interim director general after George Entwistle was brought down within 54 days by the scandal over Jimmy Savile, a former presenter accused of pedophilia. Davie impressed many, including influential Conservatives, during his short time at the top and has gone on to oversee BBC Studios’ transformation into a commercial production and distribution powerhouse. Many argue he has got the commercial nous to help the BBC compete with global players.
Alex Mahon, CEO, Channel 4
The chief executive of Channel 4 is often linked with the BBC top job, and it will be no different for Alex Mahon. The BBC and Channel 4 share public service DNA and Mahon is as ambitious as they come in the UK media business, having previously run MasterChef producer Shine Group. Mahon is busy transforming Channel 4 by moving its headquarters out of London to Leeds, a mission that would serve her well at the BBC, which is also looking to move more of its powerbase to the nations and regions. The jury is still out, however, on whether Mahon hired the right person in Ian Katz to lead Channel 4’s television output.
Jay Hunt, creative director of worldwide video, Apple
Jay Hunt has a glittering resume in the British television industry and is seen by some as a potential director general of the future. Hunt has run BBC One and overseen programming at Channel 4, boasting commissions including Sherlock, Black Mirror, Luther and Gogglebox. She joined Apple two years ago and has made her mark by commissioning shows like comedy, Trying, and inking an overall deal with Catastrophe creator Sharon Horgan. Hunt can be a decisive figure, but her fierce intellect and sharp decision-making would make her a formidable candidate to replace Hall.
Lionel Barber, former editor, Financial Times
He only stepped down as the editor of the Financial Times last week, but Lionel Barber is already being touted as a potential leader of the BBC. “Lionel Barber for BBC, please,” Conde Nast COO Wolfgang Blau tweeted on Monday — an example of the wind already in the sails of the former FT man. Barber has no serious broadcasting experience, having spent his entire career in newspapers, running the FT newsroom for the past 15 years. This has not stopped other print executives landing plum jobs at the BBC in the past, such as James Harding, the former Times editor who ran BBC News until 2017.
Sharon White, incoming chair, John Lewis Partnership
Sharon White would be a real outside bet to run the BBC given she is poised to take on a big new job at iconic British retailer John Lewis in February, but stranger things have happened. White ran UK media regulator Ofcom from March 2015 until very recently, during which time it became the first external regulator of the BBC. White is loved in Whitehall, the corridors of power in Westminster, and is seen as a hugely capable leader with a human touch. If there was one job that might keep her in media, it may well be leading the BBC.
James Purnell, director of radio and education, BBC
James Purnell is another potential internal candidate, although his history in politics is likely to count against him. Purnell was brought in by Hall in 2013 as a strategic operator who was at the forefront of the BBC’s dealings with the government. By 2016, he was put in charge of radio and has overseen the launch of the broadcaster’s audio app BBC Sounds. He has the strategic and content experience to lead the BBC, but his background as a prominent Labour Party politician could be toxic if he were to get the top job given the broadcaster’s duty to impartiality. His appointment would almost certainly be unpopular with Boris Johnson’s government.
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