Early indications are that when 54-year-old Mr Birt finally departs in March 2000, a woman could take up the leading role in British broadcasting for the first time. Liz Forgan, a former head of BBC Radio and Channel 4 News, is one of those in contention. Although she is now working outside the institutional fold, her senior broadcasting experience puts her firmly in the frame.
Another woman who might have set her sights on the Beeb's top job is Dawn Airey, currently Channel 5's director of programmes, although the opportunity has probably come up a little too early for her.
Among the more established names likely to be approached are Michael Grade, who stepped down as chief executive of Channel 4 last year, and the maturing wunderkind Michael Jackson, the former head of BBC2 who replaced Mr Grade at C4.
Alan Yentob, who is believed to have coveted the C4 job, is still in charge of creative matters at the BBC and his appointment as DG would certainly mark a swing away from the accountancy school of programming. Tony Hall, the BBC news chief executive, is another prime internal candidate.
Some of those who have worked closely with Mr Birt can already be discounted, like BBC production chief Ron Neil who retires at the end of the year.
Another eminence grise, Will Wyatt, chief executive of BBC Broadcast, will stay on only until the end of 1999 in order to preside over the changes.
Commercial sector big names like Greg Dyke of Pearson Television, David Liddiment of LWT and Michael Green of Carlton could be among the frontrunners.