EXCLUSIVE: BBC Studios has been ambitious and wide-ranging in its search for a new chief executive, but after nearly six months of recruiting, sources say that BBC director general Tim Davie is no closer to landing the big name he desires.
Deadline has spoken to several well-placed sources about why the executive hunt, which began in July last year, is yet to be resolved at a crucial time for the Doctor Who and Top Gear producer, as it grapples with the headwinds of coronavirus and the quickening revolution in streaming.
Running BBC Studios remains one of the most prized jobs in the British industry, overseeing a £1.4 billion ($1.9B) empire of production, distribution, and broadcasting assets. But it has proved to be the wrong job or the wrong time for a number of high-profile candidates approached by Egon Zehnder headhunters.
Deadline understands that Davie, himself the former CEO of BBC Studios, has been keen to identify strong female candidates at a time when diversity and gender pay are hot button issues for the British broadcaster. A number of advances have been politely rebuffed, however, and an announcement about a successor is not yet imminent.
Former Endemol Shine Group CEO Sophie Turner Laing was approached, but told recruiters that she is not currently in the market for another executive role. She left Endemol Shine last year after it was acquired by Banijay in a $2.2B deal.
One source said BBC Studios held meaningful talks with former Fremantle chief Cecile Frot-Coutaz, but she ultimately decided to remain in charge of YouTube’s EMEA operations. Frot-Coutaz ran Fremantle for more than six years, so had exactly the kind of experience BBC Studios is looking for.
Headhunters also made contact with All3Media CEO Jane Turton, but she remains focused on running the Discovery and Liberty Global-owned production group. It is the second time she has prioritized All3Media over the BBC after being shortlisted for the director general job last year.
Other external candidates linked to role have included former NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy, though one source said he was never a serious candidate after he left NBC amid allegations he presided over a toxic culture. Sony Pictures Television’s international production president Wayne Garvie has also been linked, but is not interested.
Several sources said there have been two major sticking points in attracting a high-caliber external candidate: The BBC Studios pay packet, and the fact the role has been removed from the BBC board.
Davie earned £600,000 in his final year as BBC Studios CEO and took a £75,000 pay cut to become director general. More than one source said Davie’s successor is unlikely to be paid £600,000 amid efforts to drive down executive remuneration. BBC insiders acknowledge that it is unable to match top market rates, but the hope is always that the BBC’s unique purpose is attractive.
Meanwhile, people are baffled by Davie’s decision to demote the BBC Studios job from the board given the commercial arm’s importance to the corporation. Davie sat on the board during his eight-year spell in charge of BBC Studios.
“The issue is obviously pay, but also it’s no longer a seat on the board. So who is going to do that?” asked one person familiar process. Commenting on the board demotion, another added: “Odd they did that given it’s mission-critical.”
UKTV CEO Marcus Arthur is seen as a credible internal candidate and is well-known to Davie, given that BBC Studios owns the British broadcaster behind hits including Taskmaster and Red Dwarf. As part of a dual role, Arthur also oversees BBC Studios’ UK activities as president of UK and Ireland.
A number of sources have also told Deadline that BBC Studios has considered handing the job permanently to CFO Tom Fussell, who has been acting up as CEO since Davie moved on last September. This is despite Fussell making it known to colleagues last year that he did not intend to apply for the top job.
Deadline hears that BBC Studios insiders are comfortable with how the recruitment process is progressing. It is not unheard of for the corporation to take months to fill top executive roles, with the hunt for a new director general taking five months last year. The pandemic has also not helped proceedings, reducing the capacity for face-to-face meetings.
A BBC Studios spokeswoman said: “We wouldn’t comment on an appointment process prior to announcement.”