Channel 4 poised to give top job to BBC man

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The Independent Online

Channel 4 is on the verge of completing a deal to poach Mark Thompson from the BBC to be its chief executive.

Mr Thompson, director of television at the BBC and the right-hand man of Greg Dyke, the director general, is understood to have been offered the job and will meet Channel 4 executives today to discuss details of his employment package.

The board of Channel 4 met for three hours yesterday to discuss the long-awaited appointment. An announcement on the appointment is not expected today but after the other hotly tipped candidate, Michael Lynton, the president of AOL International, was reported to have ruled himself out, Mr Thompson is in pole position to succeed the departed chief executive, Michael Jackson.

Mr Thompson, 43, who has three children, has risen through the ranks of the BBC as a well-liked programme maker and manager with a first-class brain and finely tuned political skills.

Mr Dyke has been a fan since watching Mr Thompson make a passionate defence of public service television at a conference four years ago. But he is known to have told him that he should take the Channel 4 job if it were offered because it would prove invaluable experience.

The dilemma for Mr Thompson has been whether the move would help or hinder his long-term ambition to succeed Mr Dyke in the director general's post. The job has come up just as the BBC is about to launch a batch of digital services masterminded by Mr Thompson and his team.

Mr Thompson will need all the finesse he can muster if he takes the Channel 4 package, worth more than £500,000 a year, and the headaches that attend it.

Channel 4 has been severely hit by the downturn in advertising and is struggling to turn FilmFour and the entertainment channel E4 into viable commercial ventures.

Channel 4 did well at this year's Bafta awards, winning 11 of the 19 honours, but critics say it has abandoned its roots as a radical public-service broadcaster catering for those not served by other channels. Without a distinctive public-service identity, there is the risk that a government in need of new revenue could return to the Conservatives' pet plan for Channel 4 privatisation.

Mr Jackson resigned in July after four years in charge and joined the USA Entertainment Group as its chief executive in New York last month.

Mentioned as possible successors were: Adam Singer, chief executive of the cable company Telewest; Jane Root, controller of BBC2; Peter Fincham, of the production company Talkback; Dawn Airey, chief executive of Channel 5; and Peter Bazalgette, of Endemol, maker of Big Brother.

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