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C4 top job goes to BBC's Thompson

LONDON - Mark Thompson, the director of television at the BBC, looks set today to be offered the top job at Channel 4 as Michael Lynton, the AOL Europe CEO and only other name on the shortlist, disappeared from the frame as quickly as he arrived.

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No official announcement has been made, but it is expected Thompson will be offered the job today.

Thompson and Lynton were thought to be the only two names on a final shortlist of names that went forward to the Channel 4 board. Lynton, an American and former Disney executive, only emerged as a candidate at the weekend. By last night, it was being reported that he was no longer interested in the job.

However, despite only one candidate remaining in the running for the chief executive's job and no surprise candidates on the horizon, Channel 4 has kept quiet. Most likely this is to give Thompson, who was in the race from an early stage, time to talk to executives at the BBC.

Thompson, who was appointed to his present post as part of Greg Dyke's restructuring in April 2000, is seen by some as being groomed eventually for the top job at the BBC. He was previously director of national and regional broadcasting from January 1999 and had overall responsibility for all broadcasting activities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and for local and regional broadcasting in England.

As many as 10 candidates are thought to have applied for the job, left open when Michael Jackson unexpectedly quit to join USA Entertainment, part of USA Networks, in July.

Channel 4 has remained tight-lipped about the names of potential successors to Jackson. However, there has been a great deal of speculation in the industry about who has applied for the job. The long list of names is thought to have included TV producer Peter Bazalgette; Channel 5 chief executive Dawn Airey and Lord Waheed Alli, founder of Big Breakfast production company Planet 24. Others were Peter Finch, the head of Talkback Productions, the company behind They Think It's All Over, and Jana Bennett, the former head of science at the BBC.

The selection panel is headed by Channel 4 chairman Vanni Treves with the help of director of programmes Tim Gardam, once the favourite internal candidate for the post, and managing director David Scott.

Born in London, Thompson, who is 44, was educated at Oxford and joined the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee. He helped with the launch of Watchdog in 1981 and Breakfast Time in 1983 and also worked on London Plus, before becoming an output editor on Newsnight in 1985.

He was appointed editor of the Nine O'Clock News in 1988 and editor of Panorama in 1990. He became head of features in 1992 and head of factual programmes in 1994, playing a key role in the successful performance of both BBC TV channels and introducing series such as Animal Hospital, Modern Times and The House.

As controller of BBC 2 from 1996 to 1998, he saw the channel retain its share of viewing at a time of increased competition. He is married with three children.

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