Confirming stories emerging in the UK press, the BBC has announced the appointment of Jana Bennett, current director of BBC Vision, as president, worldwide networks and Global iPlayer for commercial arm BBC Worldwide.
Bennett will take up the post in February, and will be tasked with overseeing BBC Worldwide’s wholly-owned BBC-branded channels, including BBC Entertainment, BBC Knowledge, BBC Lifestyle, CBeebies and BBC HD, and for BBC Worldwide’s 50% share in UKTV. She will also take charge of the Global iPlayer initiative, set to launch in the first half of 2011.
‘I have worked with her for many years, and have long harbored a wish to bring her talents into BBC Worldwide,’ said John Smith, CEO of BBC Worldwide, in a statement. ‘I am delighted she is joining us in a role where her editorial skills, her understanding of what the BBC means, and her knowledge of launching and running successful channels will be harnessed globally.
‘We have launched 26 channels over the last four years, and have high ambitions for them,’ he continued. ‘They are a primary focus of investment and a key means of showcasing quality British content to consumers around the world. Jana will drive them to the next level on every front – reach, ratings, revenue and editorial excellence.’
Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, called Bennett ‘an outstanding creative leader of the BBC and a very supportive executive colleague.’ Remarking that the BBC’s channels are in ‘their strongest shape for a decade,’ Thompson said Bennett ‘is just the person to take our international channels to the next level and oversee the creation of a successful Global iPlayer.’
The Global iPlayer is expected to launch initially on the iPad platform. During his speech at the Digital TV Summit in London, BBC.com EVP/MD Luke Bradley-Jones said the BBC will be ‘adopting pure paid subscription model’ for its launch.
In an internal email to BBC staff obtained by The Guardian, Thompson said Bennett ‘helped reinvent Saturday night entertainment with Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who, and brought The Apprentice to the channel.’ The Guardian broke the story of Bennett’s imminent departure from BBC Vision yesterday.
‘I have seen our portfolio of channels grow and have worked with the very best talent that the UK’s creative industries have to offer,’ said Bennett. ‘The sheer variety and pace of life in the role has been breathtaking but I go knowing that BBC Vision is in great shape. It is a phenomenal powerhouse of creative achievement and I am sure it will continue to flourish. For me, however, I am looking forward to an amazing opportunity in an international role at BBC Worldwide, where I hope to grow the reputation of the BBC around the world still further.’
Bennett served as the BBC’s director of television from 2002 to 2006, when she took on the newly-created role of director of BBC Vision. During her tenure, she oversaw the launch and growth of the Beeb’s digital channel roster, including BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC HD and BBC One HD. The BBC’s channels have by and large fared well under her watch; in the release announcing her move to BBCW, the Corporation touted the channel group’s increase in reach, share and AI scores in 2010, with BBC One remaining the UK’s most watched channel, increasing its share in peaktime, and BBC Three being the most-watched digital channel in its hours.
Still, her tenure was not without controversy, with Bennett being criticized for a ‘lack of curiosity’ by an independent inquiry during the ‘Crowngate’ affair of 2007. The tempest at the time swirled around a promotional trailer for an upcoming five-part series on the Monarchy, edited in a manner to depict the Queen ‘storming out’ of a room, when in fact she was entering the scene. The flap resulted in the exit of then-BBC One controller Peter Fincham; the series eventually aired as Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work.
As for who will replace Bennett in her current role, a few names within the organization have been bandied about by the UK press, including director of archive content Roly Keating, director of BBC North Peter Salmon and George Entwistle, controller of knowledge commissioning. Others from outside the Beeb that are being rumored for the position include Nutopia head/former BBC Two controller Jane Root, ITV Studios head Kevin Lygo and former TalkbackThames chief exec Lorraine Heggessey, also the first woman to be named controller of BBC One in 2000.