BBC3 controller Zai Bennett is to leave the channel to head up Sky Atlantic, the home of HBO in the UK.
The news comes just a month after the Corporation announced plans to move BBC3 online only from 2015, and reduce its content budget from almost £90m a year to an estimated £30m.
Bennett joined BBC3 from ITV in 2011, replacing the now director of television, Danny Cohen, as boss at the youth-orientated digital station. In his three years at the BBC he’s been responsible for commissioning a number of popular shows including The Call Centre and Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education.
Last month, Bennett wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he said, “I do find it slightly perverse that I am writing about the fact the station will cease to be a linear channel from next autumn.” He added; “The BBC and its leadership are not trying to varnish this decision as being anything other than hard, but they believe within the current financial realities of the licence fee changes have to happen. What I want to stress is that BBC3 is not only still open, but thriving.”
Bennett will leave the BBC this summer and join BSkyB heading up Sky Atlantic and reporting to Stuart Murphy, Sky’s director of entertainment, and BBC3’s first controller in 2003.
Murphy said: “I am delighted someone of the calibre of Zai has joined Sky to run Sky Atlantic. Having admired his work for many years, it’s just great to now have him on the same team. Zai has huge experience in commercial TV and his innate desire to welcome and support creative risk is a perfect fit for Sky. With his new role at Sky Atlantic, we will give him the backing and platform to do at epic scale.”
Bennett said: “I’ve hugely enjoyed working at BBC3 but this felt like an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I leave BBC3 on top form with its highest ever viewing share and six nominations at this year’s Baftas. I will miss working with the outstanding channel and commissioning teams, the BBC is lucky to be home to some of the most creative and inspiring people in television and it’s been a privilege to learn from them in my time here.”
Danny Cohen, BBC’s director of television, said: “Zai has been a fantastic controller of BBC3 and has led the channel to great success, in terms of quality, awards and audience performance. He’s a true gentleman and I will miss working with him.”
BBC executive board proposals to close BBC3 as a linear station cannot go ahead until they are approved by the BBC Trust. It is understood this process will begin this summer, and involve a public consultation in the autumn.