Tony Hall’s decision to stand down as BBC director general has started a race for the highest-profile role in UK broadcasting. David Clementi, the chair of the BBC board, will lead the interview process and will to appoint headhunters to ensure the corporation scouts out a wide range of potential candidates.
James Purnell, the former Labour minister who now runs BBC radio and education and who was once considered Hall’s likely successor, does not intend to apply, but there is no shortage of others who might be interested.
The chief executive of BBC Studios, the corporation’s commercial arm and production hub, Davie is considered a leading internal candidate. He has a mix of commercial and public service experience, having worked at Procter & Gamble and Pepsi, and previously ran the BBC’s audio and music operation. Davie briefly acted as director general while the BBC waited for Lord Hall to start work. Last year Davie turned down an offer to take over as chief executive of the Premier League, which observers believe was because he was eyeing a run at taking over from Hall.
Apple’s creative director in Europe has previously held top roles at the BBC, where she worked for two decades, plus Channel 4 and Channel 5. The Australian-born Hunt was responsible for Channel 4’s audacious £75m deal to poach The Great British Bake Off from the BBC, where she had previously been controller of BBC One. Hunt was considered a strong candidate to become chief executive of Channel 4 in 2017, at which time she held the role of chief creative officer, but she missed out to Alex Mahon. There could be a question mark for Hunt over pay: Hall’s £450,000-a-year salary is far less than Channel 4 or Apple pay. However, no one takes on the director general role for the money. She may be considered the frontrunner among the external candidates.
The Channel 4 chief executive has had to address similar issues to those the BBC is facing, including political pressure and the shift in viewer habits in the digital era. She has been outspoken about the threat of US tech and TV firms shaping the national culture, and she led the relocation of a significant part of Channel 4’s operation out of London. Scottish-born Mahon was the first woman to run a UK broadcaster larger than Channel 5, and the first female chief executive of Channel 4 in its 38-year history. She has previously worked closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, having served as a member of the advisory panel put together to help map out the future scope and remit of the BBC before the renewal of its royal charter in 2016.
McCall is in the early stages of transforming ITV’s digital future having just launched BritBox, which aims to challenge Netflix in the UK, in partnership with the BBC. A former chief executive at easyJet and Guardian Media Group, the publisher of the Guardian and Observer, McCall boasts impressive commercial credentials. Having been chief executive at ITV only since 2018, McCall may feel it is too early in her stint at the UK’s largest commercial free-to-air broadcaster to throw her hat in the ring for the top BBC job.
The BBC’s director of content has a £1bn budget and has been responsible for delivering some of the most popular shows in the UK, from Bodyguard and Bake Off to Luther. She has shown a willingness to stand up to the government in the past. A 14-year BBC veteran, Moore may be seen as lacking in commercial experience outside the environs of the corporation.
The director general of the CBI has strong credentials in both broadcasting and politics. A member of the No 10 policy unit under John Major, she has also worked as a director of strategy at both the BBC and ITV. During her time at the BBC she designed and launched Freeview. Earlier in her career she worked as a journalist at the Economist and was a partner in the management consultancy McKinsey’s media practice.
Having just started as chair of John Lewis Partnership, the former chief executive of Ofcom may feel the time is not right to apply for the BBC role. She knows her way around Whitehall, having worked in the Treasury in charge of public finances. White’s lack of broadcasting experience counts against her but she has plenty of insight into the BBC as Ofcom regulates the corporation’s activities as well as the wider media and broadcasting sector.
Rebuck is the chair of Penguin Random House UK and has worked in publishing for more than four decades. She is a former member of the government’s creative industries taskforce. In 1998 she founded the World Book Day charity. She sits as a Labour peer in the House of Lords and has been linked with a top job at the BBC for decades.