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[by Jane Martinson] BBC executives are considering the part- privatisation of the corporation’s lucrative commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, as…

Mark Thompson, BBC director general

[by Jane Martinson] BBC executives are considering the part- privatisation of the corporation’s lucrative commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, as part of a wide-ranging review, the director general, Mark Thompson, has told the Guardian.

Among the options under consideration is a stockmarket listing of the business, which had annual revenues of about £1 billion last year. BBC Worldwide sells the rights to popular shows such as Strictly Come Dancing to international buyers.

“One of the things we should look at over this period is whether 100 percent ownership of Worldwide is essential going forward,” Thompson said.

If the BBC decides to go ahead with a part-privatisation, investors could buy shares while the corporation would keep control of the commercial arm, which also publishes magazines and licenses merchandise from popular programmes such as Top Gear. It would be the first significant privatisation for years and comes amid pressure on the BBC from both sides of parliament to share the benefits of its guaranteed licence fee.

Although BBC Worldwide has been in talks with rival broadcaster Channel 4 about a potential joint venture, a sale of the business has never before been mooted. Thompson stressed that the corporation was looking at a “whole range of things” including offering a stake to a rival broadcaster or even an international partner. Such a move would end speculation that Worldwide could merge with Channel 4 to create a rival state-funded organisation. Thompson said that such a merger, which could create an organisation to rival the BBC in size, “misses the fundamental point of what Worldwide is”.

Under fire from commercial rivals and senior politicians, the BBC Trust last week ordered a review of BBC activities once all households own digital television sets in 2012. The corporation’s power online and expanding digital TV and radio channels have irked beleaguered commercial rivals, resulting in an attack by James Murdoch, head of News Corp (NYSE: NWS). in the UK.

Murdoch suggested the BBC’s position made it impossible for rivals to make online news a viable business. Senior politicians have also attacked the BBC over its pay for on- and off-screen talent.

Thompson offered a strong defence of the corporation, describing the delivery of free online news as “utterly non-negotiable. I would rather the BBC was abolished than we started encrypting news to stop people seeing it,” he said, citing public opinion that shows increasing levels of trust and affection for the corporation.

“I think politicians and leadership of all the parties understand the affection the public has. I don’t want to claim that we are the same as the NHS but there are similarities

This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..

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