BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s profit-making wing whose mission is to reinvest profits in the BBC, should be more tightly restrained, the BBC Trust’s chairman Michael Lyons has confirmed. The trust published its “emerging thinking” on the operational review it launched in to BBC Worldwide in July, so far deciding on a “a more contained focus for its operations” as well as “greater clarity” on its direction, parameters and priorities.
It comes after the division’s controversial £90 million acquisition of the Lonely Planet guides and the subsequent launch of a spin-off magazine which, unlike most Worldwide products, is not tied to or related to an existing BBC show. Though BBC Worldwide cited economic pressures for recently shutting BBCGreen.com with the loss of four jobs, some in the industry believe the environment site exceeded the broadcaster’s remit.
Worldwide has doubled its profits in the past year and made £112.5 million before tax in the 12 months to March, largely due to lucrative sales of TV shows and formats overseas like Top Gear and Strictly Come Dancing.
Though the trust says it wants to maintain Worldwide’s commercial “vigour and strength”, chairman Sir Michael Lyons told Times Online: “We believe that [Worldwide] needs a tighter set of guidelines. We want to see a little less activity overseas, and for Worldwide to predominantly concentrate on BBC intellectual property.” Lyons says the public value tests carried out before Worldwide makes any acquisitions “will be tougher in the future”.
As Digital Britain rolls on, the trust won’t pass comment on the possibility of Worldwide forming a new PSB JV with Channel 4, but is working with the BBC executive to assess the public benefit of such a move. The real questions surrounding the regulation and remit of Worldwide will have to wait until that is sorted out.