Part-privatise BBC Worldwide, says Lords report

The BBC should be forced to privatise parts of BBC Worldwide to allow its commercial wing to become a “major global brand”, a cross-party group of peers said today.

The Lords communications select committee said part of BBC Worldwide, which is also a major publisher of magazine titles, should be sold to allow it to become a global distributor of British television content on a “much greater scale”.

Publishing its report on the future of the British film and television industries, the Lords committee said a part sell-off of BBC Worldwide would produce extra profits, jobs and opportunities for UK production companies, which they could use to fund programmes.

The recommendations come after The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the BBC was preparing a five year business plan which could include selling its magazine division, which publishes everything from food magazine Olive to the Lonely Planet travel magazine.

Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Fowler said the part-privatisation of the BBC’s commercial arm would help establish a British-owned global brand.

He said: “BBC Worldwide has been immensely successful in developing the commercial income of the BBC and now has revenue of around £1 billion a year.

“All the evidence suggests that there is further scope to expand but to do this will require private capital.

“It cannot be achieved by using the licence fee. A company with private investment but retaining a BBC shareholding could achieve both bigger profits and also major proceeds from the sale.”

A BBC Trust spokesman said the Trust was “first and foremost” focused on the interests of licence fee payers.

The spokesman said: “We believe their interests are best served by maximising the value that BBC Worldwide can secure while ensuring its activities are aligned with the BBC’s public purposes.”

Any commercial benefits, the spokesman added, could be offset by potential damage to the BBC’s reputation and market sensitivities involved in any aggressive expansion of BBC Worldwide.

BBC director general, Mark Thompson, said last year the part-privatisation of the business was an option being looked at in his wide-ranging review of the organisation’s activities.

The spokesman added: “As we have said before, while Worldwide is not currently up for sale, we keep an open mind on its ownership structure.

“If we saw fit to implement any changes in the future, our priorities would be to ensure the BBC’s brand and reputation was protected and to secure the best value for licence fee payers from the BBC’s intellectual property.”

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