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Frontrunners Emerge as BBC Boss Tony Hall Set to Leave Broadcasting Behind

Variety — Manori Ravindran

As the U.K. industry reacts to news of Tony Hall’s intention to depart the BBC this July, top-level executives including Charlotte Moore and Tim Davie as well as external contenders such as Channel 4’s Alex Mahon are beginning to emerge.

Variety understands that Lord Hall, who has headed the BBC for seven years as director general, has been intending to leave the corporation for some time with a 2020 date in his sights since last year, though most in the industry expected him to depart following the BBC’s centenary in 2022. He is understood to be leaving for another role that is outside the broadcasting world. 

Industry insiders tell Variety that with Hall’s departure, the “time is right for a woman” to lead the BBC. Moore, who currently serves as director of content for the corporation, is emerging as the primary frontrunner for the top job.

If given the role, she would be the first female director general in the corporation’s history, which spans 16 director generals since 1922.

One former senior BBC exec tells Variety that Moore would be “the natural choice” for the role. “She’s got the political nerve and the experience of (taking on) the challenge for the BBC in regards to streaming and SVOD competition. She is editorial and strategic and she’s done a great job in her current role.”

The new director general will enter a turbulent climate for the BBC, which is increasingly on the defensive against a Conservative government looking to scrap the license fee – the lifeblood of its content efforts – and encroaching competition from cash-rich SVOD players such as Netflix and Amazon. Hall has been particularly vocal about the threat posed by the latter platforms. 

“The (new director general) must have a game plan for a ‘no license fee’ scenario,” a senior source tells Variety. “You need someone who is not old-school, lofty BBC, thinking the world owes them a favor. They must also be smart enough in the cut and thrust to keep the values of the BBC but run it as a commercial entity. The role is not for the faint-hearted.”

Another high-level ex-staffer tells Variety that Moore has “always been the frontrunner” for the job.

“She gets the things that Tony wants to do, such as focusing on (youth) and improving the presence of the BBC in the regions. She would be a great successor,” they said.

The other top internal candidate is believed to be BBC Studios boss Tim Davie, who was most recently a contender for the Premier League CEO role before turning it down.

The executive also has prior experience with the director general role, having taken the reins as acting director general in November 2012 following the resignation of George Entwistle. Davie served in the role until April 2013, when he resumed working with the commercial arm of the public broadcaster.

Most recently, Davie oversaw the merger of production arm BBC Studios and sales outfit BBC Worldwide as the integrated BBC Studios.

Other BBC names in the mix for the job include Anne Bulford, former deputy director general who left the BBC last spring to pursue a portfolio of non-executive roles.

One industry source says Bulford is “highly respected and loved” and “great at partnerships and doing all the big heavy lifting the director general has to do.”

Meanwhile, it is believed that Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon, who assumed the role in 2017, will also be considered. She was previously head of VFX software firm Foundry.

Industry sources say Mahon has had “brilliant success” in expanding Channel 4 outside of London, with a new headquarters set up in Leeds and regional hubs underway in Bristol and Glasgow. This recent experience aligns well with the BBC’s own priorities to expand outside the British capital going forward.

Ultimately, the new director general will be selected by BBC chairman David Clementi, to whom Hall currently reports. Clementi will oversee the hiring process on behalf of the 13-member BBC board, which includes Hall and Davie.

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