Zai Bennett to leave BBC Three for Sky

Zai Bennett

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BBC Three controller Zai Bennett will leave the corporation to take up a role as director of Sky Atlantic.

The announcement comes a month after the BBC executive confirmed plans to close down BBC Three as a TV channel and move it to iPlayer, while cutting its budget from £85m to £25m.

Bennett, who joined the BBC from ITV in 2011, said he had "hugely enjoyed" working at the channel, but felt the Sky post was an opportunity that was hard to resist.

"I leave BBC Three on top form with its highest-ever viewing share and six nominations at this year's Baftas," he added.

"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."

Channel success

Under Bennett's management, BBC Three recorded its highest share among its target 16-34 audience, beating other youth-focused channels, such as E4, for viewers that are traditionally harder to reach for the corporation.

Jack Whitehall rests his feet on Zai's back The BBC Three boss had an interesting take on dealing with talent

The channel also won four Bafta awards for comedy, factual and drama in the last two years, and has had critical and popular success for its current affairs output and shows such as The Revolution Will Be Televised, The Call Centre and Bad Education.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Bennett spent a day as a production runner on Jack Whitehall's Backchat last autumn, at one point becoming a footrest for the comedian.

Danny Cohen, director of BBC Television, said: "Zai has been a fantastic controller of BBC Three 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 Three was launched in 2003 but, subject to approval from the BBC Trust, the channel will only be available on iPlayer from autumn 2015.

The corporation says the online move will save more than £50m, of which £30m will be reinvested in BBC One drama.

The freed-up spectrum will be used to extend CBBC by an hour to 8pm and to provide a BBC One +1 channel.

The BBC executive will provide more details of its proposal to the BBC Trust in the summer.

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