The criticism didn’t stick and Davie, now CEO of BBC Studios and director of global, is emerging as the favored candidate to replace Tony Hall, the outgoing director general, who announced his planned departure in late January.
Under ordinary circumstances, the announcement of Hall’s successor should have been imminent, but the coronavirus pandemic appears to have put the brakes on the recruitment process.
It is possible that headhunters may delay the search for the next head of the BBC still further owing to anxieties that the reported shortlist of four candidates includes only one woman.
Despite sounding out a number of senior women that run British broadcasters and London-based producers, including ITV’s Carolyn McCall, Channel 4’s Alex Mahon and All3Media’s Jane Turton, the only woman believed to be on the shortlist is Charlotte Moore, BBC director of content.
“The key reason why people like Carolyn and Alex aren’t interested in running the BBC is because doing it would involve a hefty pay cut,” says one senior U.K. TV executive. “Also, it wouldn’t look good to leave your company during a national health emergency when your own business is in crisis due to the economic impact of the pandemic.”
Incredibly, despite being the most important job in British broadcasting the role pays a mere £400,000 ($486,629) — peanuts compared with what commercial media bosses earn. If Davie, for example, is successful in getting the job, he’ll have to stomach a considerable pay cut from his estimated £642,000 ($781,000) salary.
Don’t expect a fancy bonus, either.
Nevertheless, the power and prestige of running the BBC remains considerable. The public broadcaster’s influence on British life is immeasurable and its soft power overseas is valued by even U.K. politicians who are sceptical of how the BBC is funded by a compulsory licence fee.
The impressive way it has so far handled the COVID-19 crisis only adds to the kudos attached to the role — and why there is no rush to appoint a new leader.
Aside from Davie and Moore, the other two contenders shortlisted by headhunters Odgers Berndtson are understood to be Doug Gurr, the New Zealand-born head of Amazon’s U.K. and Ireland operations and Will Lewis, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and ex-CEO and publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
Lewis’s chances are unlikely to have been helped by accusations in the British High Court, revealed Wednesday, that he aided the concealment and destruction of millions of emails relating to phone hacking at the Murdoch-owned U.K. newspapers, the News of the World and the Sun.
In 2010 he became group general manager at News Group Newspapers, publishers of the Sun and the now defunct News of the World, shuttered following the phone hacking scandal. Lewis has denied the allegations.
The problem for the headhunters is that with a question mark against Lewis’s application, the shortlist looks very thin indeed.
It’s possible that other candidates, preferably women, may need to be added.
Among the names doing the rounds are ex-Ofcom CEO Sharon White, the new chair of embattled British retailer John Lewis, and Carolyn Fairbairn, an ex-BBC and ITV strategist and erstwhile journalist who now runs the Confederation of British Industry. She also launched the successful UK digital platform, Freeview.
One report suggests that Hall could remain at the BBC until the end of the year, with his successor taking over in January. But regardless of the appointment’s timing, insiders believe that Davie remains the candidate to beat.
“Tim knows the BBC inside out and having joined the BBC from Pepsi has genuine commercial experience,” noted a former BBC program-maker. “Charlotte Moore is great at content but lacks Tim’s business nous.”
In the future, as the BBC’s finances are likely to come under further pressure, Davie’s commercial acumen is certain to be needed more than ever. He is also someone who is in it for the long game having worked at the BBC in a variety of rules since 2005. Not for nothing is he a runner of marathons.
A BBC spokesman said the recruitment process had not been delayed.
(Pictured, L-R: Doug Gurr, Charlotte Moore, Tim Davie, Will Lewis)