Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sale or flotation of BBC Worldwide is back on the agenda
James Ashton writing in The Times:

THE BBC is eyeing fresh plans for the partial sale or stock-market flotation of BBC Worldwide, its commercial division, by 2012.

Zarin Patel, BBC finance director, said the idea is a “tempting” way of pulling more money into its coffers. But she harbours concerns about losing control of the BBC name. “We have to think about brand control,” said Patel. “Who do we want to be in bed with?”
Analysts value BBC Worldwide at more than £2 billion – which means that if the BBC sold a 25% stake it could raise in excess of £500m. The division made a profit of £111m last year. Revenues are expected to exceed those of ITV1 in four years.

It makes money from a string of global television channels and by selling show formats, such as Strictly Come Dancing, to foreign broadcasters. Boss John Smith would want some of the fresh funds to aid expansion. He has already bought Lonely Planet, the travel-guide publisher, but a borrowing cap of £350m means he must link up with private-equity firms for big acquisitions.
A sale of BBC Worldwide was last considered in 2004, but the corporation decided to keep and develop it. Its future will be considered alongside the next licence fee negotiation.
Patel will also examine the future of BBC’s research and innovation centre, which could be commercialised. The division helped to develop industry standards such as high definition television and Nicam digital stereo. It has an annual budget of £30m.

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