Jackson tipped to be DG as he quits American job

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The odds on the former chief executive of Channel 4 Michael Jackson becoming the next director general of the BBC have shortened dramatically following the announcement that he is to resign from his job in the US.

Mr Jackson is now joint second favourite to fill the post vacated by Greg Dyke after he confirmed that he is quitting his post as chairman of the New York-based Universal Television Group.

Before the news of his departure, the odds on Mr Jackson securing the post were 16/1, but these have now been slashed to 4/1, ranking him alongside his successor at Channel 4, Mark Thompson.

Mark Byford, who has been acting director general since Mr Dyke resigned in January following Lord Hutton's criticisms of the BBC, is still 7/1 favourite for the post.

"I can confirm that I am leaving Universal," said Mr Jackson yesterday.

Universal Television, the cable television and production arm of Vivendi Universal, will shortly be merging withGeneral Electric's NBC Entertainment. The high-level jobs in the newly merged company will go to NBC executives, which means that Mr Jackson and the Universal Television president David Goldhill are looking for new posts.

"He was always an outsider because no one thought he would leave his job in America, but now he has to be a senior contender," said a spokesman for Ladbrokes. Mr Jackson, a former controller of BBC2, has not yet applied for the job of director general, but the application process is due to be reopened when Michael Grade takes up his post as BBC chairman on 17 May.

Friends say that Mr Jackson plans to stay in the US. But he has many of the criteria required of the next director general, including previous knowledge of working at the BBC, combined with commercial experience.

"His chances are very realistic. He's worked here before and has a very interesting background," a BBC insider said. "It depends how highly he's rated by Michael Grade and how difficult it would be to persuade the governors to look to someone like him rather than Mark Byford."

Other sources at the BBC suggested that Mr Grade does not think highly of Mr Jackson, who replaced him at the helm of Channel 4.

"I can't see anybody being appointed as director general who isn't totally Grade's person," said one source.

At Universal, Mr Jackson, a former controller of BBC2, turned the British television hits The Office and Coupling into US sitcoms, and oversaw programmes such as Jerry Springer.He was the man responsible for bringing Big Brother to Channel 4, but insiders say that Mr Grade never felt he lived up to his legacy at the network.

Other contenders for the post of director general include Mr Byford, Jenny Abramsky, the BBC head of radio, and the director of television at the BBC, Jana Bennett.