BBC director general Mark Thompson has signalled to senior colleagues that he could step down from the role towards the end of this year or early in 2013, according to reports.
The 54-year old, who has been at the head of the corporation for eight years, is said to be planning an exit sometime after the London 2012 Olympics, which the BBC is host broadcaster for.
According to sources quoted in the Guardian, Thompson is understood to have told allies that he is "psychologically ready" to move on.
Thompson was appointed director general in 2004 after the Hutton Report into the Dr David Kelly affair forced the resignation of his predecessor, Greg Dyke, and the BBC chairman Gavyn Davies.
The BBC has hired a headhunting firm Egon Zehnder to help develop a ‘succession
Although Lord Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, has said he "assumes" Mr Thompson will leave before the end of his term in 2016, he has made it clear that any plan is merely to avoid a "blood on the carpet" transition and does not mean Thompson is leaving in the near future.
The front runners to replace Thompson if he were to leave in the next year include Caroline Thomson, the BBC chief
operating officer; Helen Boaden, BBC head of news; and George Entwistle, head of BBC Vision. External candidates might include ITV boss Peter Fincham and Channel 4 director of programming David Abraham.
A spokesman for the Corporation said: “Whilst speculation is inevitable, as
the chairman has made clear earlier this week this is sensible succession
planning and does not signal an immediate vacancy.”