BBC Director General Race: How The Contenders Are Shaping Up

BBC director general
Tim Davie, Charlotte Moore and Jay Hunt. BBC/Shutterstock

The door slams shut today on applications for one of the biggest jobs in global broadcasting: running the BBC. Resumes have been dusted off and the BBC’s headhunters have been courting interest as the corporation seeks to replace Tony Hall as director general after he announced his departure in January.

It’s not been the most electrifying of races to date, with a number of industry insiders observing that the recruitment process has been quiet. There have been no shock candidates, no big pitches for the job. But that could all change in an instant as the BBC chairman Sir David Clementi edges closer to a decision.

Hall’s successor faces a gargantuan task. The to-do list includes, but is not limited to: Grappling with a government that seems determined to undermine the BBC’s funding, slashing costs, securing the success of commercial arm BBC Studios, cleaning up a rumbling equal pay dispute, closing the diversity gap, and bringing a new generation of young audiences to the BBC’s output. All of this, while there are unprecedented threats from U.S. media giants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Below is a run-down of how things are shaping up in the battle to become the BBC’s next director general. It is by no means an exhaustive list of candidates as there may be other names yet to emerge. We will keep this post updated as things develop, so check back for updates.


Tim Davie: Sources have told Deadline that the BBC Studios CEO is sweet on the idea of succeeding Tony Hall having done the job on an interim basis in 2012. He has so far declined to comment on the process. Bizarrely, he would probably have to take a salary cut to step up: His total pay was £642,000 ($826,000) last year, while Hall took home £450,000.

Charlotte Moore: The BBC’s director of content remains a much-fancied internal candidate, but according to BBC insiders, she is keeping her cards close to her chest about whether she is gunning for the top job. Many have pointed to her content credentials, but others have questioned whether she has the political and strategic nous to handle a hostile government.

Jay Hunt: Apple’s creative director of worldwide video has a healthy level of support from certain BBC insiders, with her ability to make tough decisions seen as an advantage. Sources have suggested that she will only commit to the recruitment process if asked. Hunt declined to comment when approached by Deadline.

Alex Mahon: Channel 4’s CEO has joined a long line of predecessors in being linked with a move to the BBC. A source said she is “fully committed” to Channel 4, but did not gone as far as ruling her out of the running.

Jane Turton: All3Media’s chief executive has been contacted by headhunters for the BBC. Turton is not commenting on her interest in the role, but industry sources think she would be keen. She is a highly-regarded figure in the UK production sector, who has experience of navigating demanding shareholders in the shape of Discovery and Liberty Global.

Simon Pitts: The CEO of Scottish broadcaster STV has been mooted as a potential candidate in recent days. He used to work as ITV’s director of transformation and strategy, and put in a good showing in the race to become Channel 4’s chief executive in 2017. An STV spokeswoman said: “Simon’s really enjoying his time at STV, he’s excited about the progress we’re making and what can be achieved over the next few years.”

George Osborne: The former British chancellor and sitting editor of the Evening Standard has indicated to friends that he would welcome an approach from the BBC. Although there is little doubt about his political credentials, he would be a highly controversial hire given his lack of broadcasting experience and close proximity to the government.


James Purnell: The BBC radio boss has counted himself out of the race, according to those close to him. Some have said that his history as a prominent former Labour politician would have been unhelpful baggage at a time when the Conservative government has been sharply critical of BBC news coverage.

Carolyn McCall: Asked by Deadline last week if she will be throwing her hat in the ring, ITV’s chief executive told Deadline: “It’s not something I’m considering.”

Carolyn Fairbairn: The Confederation of British Industry director general has been a much-fancied external candidate. She is a former BBC director of strategy and was well regarded by those who worked with her at the time. But Financial Times reporter Mark Di Stefano has said she will not be applying.

Elisabeth Murdoch: The former Shine boss was playfully linked with the BBC vacancy by the i newspaper last month, only for the report to be swiftly scotched by The Guardian.

A smattering of other names vaguely linked with the top job who have also indicated they are not interested. These include former Channel 4 CEO David Abraham, ex-BBC News boss James Harding and Dawn Airey, the former Channel 5 chief executive who now runs Getty Images.


Paul Lee: The former ABC Entertainment Group president has come up in conversations Deadline has had about future director generals. He lives in LA, where he runs Wiip, the CAA-backed production venture behind Amazon series Dickinson. The former BBC executive was approached about the role in 2012 — when BBC TV boss George Entwistle ultimately triumphed — but he did not engage.

Lionel Barber: He stepped down as the editor of the Financial Times in January and was swiftly touted as a potential leader of the BBC. Barber has no serious broadcasting experience, having spent his entire career in newspapers.

Mystery candidate: The BBC director general recruitment process usually presents at least one left-field candidate overlooked by industry chatter.

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