Mark Thompson, the chief executive of Channel 4, ruled himself out of the race to become the BBC's next director general yesterday.
He had been widely regarded in the television industry as the likely successor to Greg Dyke, who resigned in January after the publication of the Hutton report. But as he presented Channel 4's annual results, Mr Thompson said he had no intention of leaving his job.
Bookmakers reacted by installing Mark Byford, the acting director general, as the favourite. Mr Byford, who was formerly head of the BBC World Service, was thought to have damaged his chances by continuing to back a post-Hutton internal inquiry that is deeply unpopular among BBC staff.
He was also regarded as an unlikely choice for Michael Grade, the new chairman, who may be disappointed by Mr Thompson's decision.
But Mr Thompson's comments did not convince everybody and sources close to him said he might still join the BBC.
Mr Thompson was asked yesterday to confirm speculation that he had been offered a "golden handcuffs'' deal by Channel 4, but he refused to comment except to say his contract was a private matter.
Mr Grade, who takes over as chairman on 17 May, has reopened the appointment process for the director general.
Other contenders include Jana Bennett, the BBC director of television; Jenny Abramsky, BBC head of radio; and Michael Jackson, a former Channel 4 chief executive who is now based in America.
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