BBC Looking for New Leader as Industry Picks Possible Candidates

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A week ahead of the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics, the BBC has signed a deal to ensure it will remain the exclusive U.K. Olympic broadcaster through 2020 at least. The agreement signed with the International Olympic Committee includes U.K. rights across all media platforms, including online and mobile.

Former contenders for the director general role and other top TV executives are seen as likely candidates, with Rupert Murdoch and others predicting a split of the post into two.

LONDON - George Entwistle's surprise resignation late Saturday as director general of the BBC leaves the U.K. public broadcaster with a leadership vacuum.

Tim Davie, currently the director of BBC audio and music, has been named the acting director general, but the BBC is widely expected to start the selection process for a full-time successor shortly. A spokeswoman didn't comment on the process.

Entwistle was picked after a search process that produced a long list of candidates, which was narrowed down to four. The final candidates went through interviews led by BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and his deputy Diane Coyle along with the heads of trust committees. The BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, didn't immediately detail its plans for the latest selection process.

Entwistle resigned after less than two months in the top job amid questions about the broadcaster's journalistic standards as the head of the company had to acknowledge that flagship news show had wrongly accused a British politician of child abuse.

Contenders who were interviewed during this summer's search process for a new director general, but missed out to Entwistle could get another shot. And observers early Sunday mentioned other top U.K. TV executives as likely candidates.

Some even suggested that the BBC could now consider redefining its top role, for example by splitting up its business and journalistic duties. British TV veteran David Elstein, the former CEO of Britain's Channel 5 and former BSkyB head of programming, in a guest column for The Times, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., had this week called for the director general post to become a purely business-focused CEO role and handing its duties as editor-in-chief to a journalist for separate editor-in-chief position.

Murdoch himself overnight predicted that this was a likely scenario following Entwistle's departure. "Now BBC will probably split editor-in- chief and Director General jobs," he tweeted. "Would be much better."

Here is a look at some of the possible contenders for the director general role - whether in its current form or redefined:

Caroline Thomson
The former BBC COO was a top contender this summer, but lost out to Entwistle and then announced her departure from the company. She is likely to get another look, observers believe. ITV News reports that bookies Ladbrokes list Thomson as the favorite to take the top BBC post. She would be the first woman to lead the broadcaster.

Tim Davie
The 45-year-old will temporarily step into the leadership role and could use that time to show off his skills. But in first reactions, observers criticized that he has mostly a marketing background instead of journalism experience. He joined the BBC in 2005 head of marketing and was promoted to the role of director of BBC audio and music in 2008. This fall, he was tapped to run BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm, as of December - until late Saturday's news that he would step in as acting director general of the BBC. If the role was split, he could take the role that focuses on the business aspects.

Ed Richards
Richards is the CEO of U.K. media regulator Ofcom and threw his hat into the ring for the top BBC job earlier this year.
He was mentioned as one of the final four candidates in the director general search, which could possibly allow him another shot.

Roger Mosey

The recently named director of BBC Vision previously oversaw BBC Sport and oversaw the much-lauded BBC coverage of the Summer Olympics in London. The BBC veteran also has journalistic and non-news experience. And he used to oversee Radio 4's Today show.

Helen Boaden
The name of the BBC's director of news was already bandied about during the director general search that led to Entwistle's appointment. With the broadcaster's journalistic standards questioned, some will argue that an executive with a news background would be a good fit. But given the blunder at Newsnight under her watch, her position is likely to be weakened.

Peter Fincham
The director of television at TV giant ITV was once controller of BBC1. The former independent producer's name has come up in the past as a possible director general candidate, and the Guardian on Sunday mentioned him as a possible contender.

Michael Jackson
The ex-CEO of Channel 4 also used to serve as controller of BBC1 and BBC2 in the 1990s. In 2001, he moved to the U.S. to run Barry Diller's then-USA Entertainment and then Universal Television. He later became the president of programming for Diller's IAC, but repeatedly was mentioned as a top contender for various big TV jobs back in the U.K. The Guardian on Sunday suggested he could be among the possible candidates this time around.

Marjorie Scardino
U.K. media on Sunday pointed out that Scardino is scheduled to leave her role as CEO of Financial Times owner Pearson at year's end, making her available to run the BBC. It is not clear if she would be interested in the role, but she is one of Britain's highest-profile female CEOs.

Twitter: @georgszalai

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