Magazine article Variety

BBC Braces for the Unknown

Magazine article Variety

BBC Braces for the Unknown

Article excerpt

Speculation runs rampant as no front-runner emerges for pubcaster's top spot


As the race to become the BBC's next leader intensifies, no single contender has emerged as the likely candidate to take on what remains the most demanding role in U.K. media.

"It is a very unusual situation, because there is no obvious shoo-in for director-general," says media commentator Raymond Snoddy. "For once, nobody knows who is going to get the job."

It's a scenario that's starkly different from the way things were eight years ago, when BBC vet Mark Thompson landed the gig as the clear front-runner. But the Beeb itself has changed.

The ongoing worldwide economic crisis has caused the company to bleed money and jobs, even as it pushes ahead as a multiplatform broadcaster with an enviable track record of successfully backing such digital initiatives as Freeview and the iPlayer.

In fact, coin is so tight that the new director-general is likely to be paid a modest £450,000 ($705,510) a year, compared with the $1.3 million that Thompson earned. The comparatively meager pay package effectively rules out higher-paid outside potential candidates like ABC topper Paul Lee, who launched BBC America, and ex-BBC high-flyer Michael Jackson, also working in the U.S. as prexy of Barry Diller's Internet media concern IAC (InterActiveCorp).

That's not to say there are no names being bandied about for the post. From within the BBC, the three leading candidates are head of news Helen Boaden, head of vision George Entwistle and chief operating officer Caroline Thomson. While it would be a coup for BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, who's responsible for hiring Thompson's successor, to appoint a woman DG for the first time, many insiders suggest Entwistle has the inside track among the three.

"The chairman obviously likes George," says a senior BBC executive. "They are both intellectuals. But because George is relatively inexperienced (he was appointed head of vision last April) there is a risk that he would end up being (seen as) Patten's boy."

Outside the company, the favorite to take over from Thompson is Ed Richards, a former BBC strategy head who's currently the CEO of U.K. media regulator Ofcom. Richards lacks creative experience, but that may not be a problem in the current environment. …

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