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BBC Crisis: Bookies, Experts Weigh in on Director General Candidates

BBC Keeps Olympics Through 2020

Ed Richards, the head of U.K. media regulator Ofcom, and other outsiders are seen as having good chances to become the U.K. public broadcaster's new boss.

 

LONDON - Since George Entwistle's late Saturday resignation as director general of the BBC, U.K. media industry folks have been discussing possible contenders for that role.

An early consensus that has emerged is that after BBC veteran Entwistle's tenure that lasted only 54 days, outside candidates will have a good chance this time around given that a fresh wind and a fresh set of eyes could help in the task of rebuilding trust in the U.K. public broadcaster.

"There has to be some outsider influence" in the selection process, former BBC News top executive and current director of the Center for Journalism at Cardiff University Richard Sambrook told THR. "But there is not a large, strong list of candidates or clear successor."

The Guardian on Tuesday also said that members of the 12-person BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body led by chairman Chris Patten, are leaning towards focusing on outside candidates.

Observers say though that the $715,000 annual salary that Entwistle got is not a big draw for candidates from outside the BBC, but the institution's importance in the U.K. media landscape is.

Patten over the weekend promised to pick a new director general within weeks, signaling that there won't be an exhaustive executive search process. Observers took that as a sign that those who made the shortlist this summer, but missed out to Entwistle, will get another look.

Bookmakers on Tuesday gave 45-year-old Ed Richards, the head of U.K. media regulator Ofcom, the best chances in the race for the top BBC post. Not only was he on the previous shortlist, but he has also overseen the regulation of the U.K. broadcast and telecom sectors, giving him a broad understanding of the industry and its challenges. He also used to work at the BBC for a while in a corporate strategy role.

What observers have seen as Richards' biggest weakness though is that he was a senior advisor to former Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair, potentially exposing him to political criticism.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill assign him the best odds of getting appointed to the top BBC post.

Acting director general Tim Davie, who was previously tapped to become head of BBC Worldwide after serving as the director of BBC Audio and Music, is the executive who bookmakers rank as the second most likely person to ascend to the BBC director general role.

Caroline Thomson, the BBC's former COO who left after losing out to Entwistle, is seen as the third favorite.

Reports from the Guardian and the BBC on Tuesday also named some new outsiders who could be considered for the job.

Among them is Tony Hall, a former BBC director of news who is currently CEO of the Royal Opera House. William Hill mentions him as its fourth most likely choice.

As reported on Sunday, ITV's director of television Peter Fincham and former Channel 4 CEO Michael Jackson have also been mentioned as possible candidates.

The BBC also mentioned Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was also bandied during this summer's search, Channel 4's chief creative officer Jay Hunt and Dawn Airey, the former CEO of Channel 5 who now works for RTL.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai