Amazon’s UK Chief Emerges As BBC Director General Contender, But Coronavirus Complicates Hiring Plan

BBC director general Tony Hall
BBC director general Tony Hall.

Amazon’s UK boss Doug Gurr has emerged as a contender for the BBC director general role, but sources have told Deadline that the coronavirus crisis has complicated the broadcaster’s plans to have the best possible field of candidates.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that Gurr has joined a shortlist of candidates to succeed Tony Hall, although Amazon said it does not comment on “rumor and speculation” and the BBC also declined to comment. Gurr adds to an already known field of BBC Studios CEO Tim Davie, BBC director of content Charlotte Moore, and Will Lewis, the former Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher. Sources suggest there could be other contenders on the list.

It has taken more than three months to get this point and along the way, several high-profile individuals have counted themselves out of the process. Deadline revealed last month that Jay Hunt, Apple’s creative director of worldwide video in Europe, declined to be formally considered, while Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon has also ruled herself out. There has been widespread speculation in recent days that All3Media CEO Jane Turton is in the frame after being approached by BBC headhunters, although it is not clear if her candidacy has moved forward.

The Guardian said dropouts mean the BBC is considering delaying interviews from June to September, meaning a new DG may not be in place until 2021. A BBC spokesman denied this and said there are “no plans for interviews to take place in September.” Hall is not expected to step down until August at the earliest.

Although the BBC is insisting there is no delay, industry insiders have said that a number of issues have made life difficult for the corporation. The coronavirus pandemic has made meetings and interviews problematic, while it has also meant that some external candidates have chosen to focus on issues at their own companies, rather than be seen to be flirting with a new role. There have also been some misgivings about the way BBC chairman Sir David Clementi has conducted the process.

One senior source summed up the thinking: “It’s a great opportunity now — the BBC is kind of protected and it would be a great opportunity to get a different person in with a different vision, but I don’t think Clementi’s that kind of man to be able to go and find that person. It’s a difficult time to recruit — if you’re part of a company, you’re focused on doing the right thing by the people in your business. No-one really wants to be distracted by talking about another role. It’s quite tricky.”

Another source close to the process added that it has been “ludicrous” and that Clementi had insisted on face-to-face meetings at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. A BBC insider played this down, saying video call technology has been used, and that Clementi has conducted the hiring process fairly and appropriately.

Deadline reported last month that Davie is considered to be the frontrunner, and industry insiders still consider that to be the case, with the BBC Studios boss said to be confident of his credentials. His commercial experience is not in question, but some have asked if he has the right skills to be a creative leader.

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