Jana Bennett Joins BBC Worldwide as President, Worldwide Networks and Global iPlayer

To step down from overseeing BBC's seven television networks, five national radio stations, film production and online businesses before the end of the year.



LONDON -- In a surprise move, the BBC's top content exec Jana Bennett is stepping down from overseeing its seven television networks -- including BBC1 and BBC2 -- five national radio stations, film production and online businesses before the end of the year, moving to a job with the commercial arm BBC Worldwide.

Bennett will be president of the Worldwide Networks and be responsible for rolling out international versions of the BBC's highly successful TV catch-up service, the iPlayer.

She will report to BBC Worldwide chief executive John Smith.

In recent years BBC Worldwide has been rolling out international versions of its Knowledge, Lifestyle and Kids branded channels around the world, in addition to BBC America, its U.S. window, and now has 40 such networks.

The move is still surprising; as the £3.5 billion ($5.45 billion) a year pubcaster's de facto content head, Bennett was the most powerful woman in British television and thought to be serious contender to succeed the BBC's director general Mark Thompson, if he were to resign.

But Bennett is understood to be keen to hone her skills in a more commercial environment, where revenue has to be earned and profits delivered, after spending such a long time in an organization where the income is guaranteed by the government.

Bennett is just one of a number of BBC executives who have been criticized over the level of executive pay in recent years.

Lining up to succeed her could be executives including the BBC's head of news Helen Boaden, former Talkback Thames chief executive Lorraine Heggessey and former Discovery and BBC2 exec Jane Root, now founder of independent producer Nutopia.

During Bennett's tenure, the BBC's flagship channel BBC1 has seen a string of programming successes including Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Life on Mars, and seen its audience share hold steady.

But she was criticized over her apparent failure to act in the "Crowngate" affair, which eventually forced the head of BBC1, Peter Fincham, to resign over mis-edited footage of the Queen.

Bennett was a long time BBC producer and the pubcaster's first head of science, launching mega-productions like Walking With Dinosaurs and The Human Body before leaving the BBC to become managing director of TLC in 1997. She returned to the BBC in 2002 to become the director of television.

"Jana has been an outstanding creative leader of the BBC and a very supportive executive colleague," said Thompson, in an email announcing the move to all BBC staff.

"Her passion for the craft of television has resulted in our channels being in the strongest shape for a decade. Reach, quality and approval are all the highest levels ever."