BBC Trust dampens Worldwide's plans for global domination

Corporation reins in its commercial division

The BBC'S governing body has stymied expansion plans at BBC Worldwide, blocking the commercial division from any further takeover deals except in "exceptional circumstances".

One of those exceptions would be to buy Virgin Media out of its 50 per cent stake in UKTV, according to the head of the BBC Trust, putting a deal with Channel 4 back in play.

Following an 18-month review into the corporation's commercial activity, the trust outlined a series of changes at Worldwide. The subsidiary's long-term future remains under review.

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, said the arm "brings both significant financial benefits for the licence-fee payer and a tangible boost to the creative economy. But the trust and the executive both acknowledge that the boundaries for Worldwide activity need to be clearer."

The BBC's regulator yesterday outlined a series of points for the division. The first was "an end to mergers and acquisitions unless there are exceptional circumstances" adding that it would not expect "to consider a commercial deal of the scale and nature of the Lonely Planet acquisition in future".

It paid £89m for a dominant stake in the guidebook publisher in 2007, sparking anger from commercial rivals. However, the trust said yesterday it would not be forced to offload the business.

The trust wants "a clearer focus on securing value" from the BBC's intellectual property, an exit from activities not in keeping with the BBC's brand and the sale of its stakes in non-BBC-branded international channels "where it makes common sense".

During the review, the BBC Executive recommended Worldwide should become more international and the trust said it recognised the "important contribution" it can make to the BBC's fifth public purpose, which is to bring the UK to the world and the world to the UK.

It cautioned that "such activity must contribute to the BBC's fulfilment of its public purposes as well as the scale of the dividend passed back to the BBC."

The trust launched the review last year to ensure its strategy was aligned with the BBC's public service interest as well as being sensitive to other commercial players in the market.

It set out initial conclusions in March but put the review on ice in the run-up to the publication of the Digital Britain report. One of the cornerstones of the document, overseen by Lord Carter, was to create a rival public service broadcaster. The Government's preferred option was a tie-up between Channel 4 and Worldwide.

Worldwide remains in discussions with Channel 4 over a potential joint venture. A deal could now depend on whether the BBC can buy the 50 per cent stake it doesn't own in UKTV from Virgin Media. Should an agreement be reached, Sir Michael said the deal would fit into the "exceptional" category. The assets would be used in the joint venture with Channel 4.

"Discussions have been going on some time," Sir Michael said of talks between Channel 4 and Worldwide. "I think I can see discussions coming to an early conclusion. There is still the prospect of a deal."

Net policy: Trust boss rejects online charges for BBC news

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, yesterday rejected calls to introduce charges for the BBC's online news service, despite fears that it skews competition. "We have no intention of diluting BBC commitment to universal access to free news online," he said, but added: "Beyond that we want to question honestly what licence-fee payers really expect to get from their licence fee and what they might be surprised to see the BBC doing in the online world."

Sir Michael said the trust recognised the concerns over the scale and growth of the BBC's internet operations. "Equally, it's an immensely popular service with audiences and an important tool for the UK economy," he said. Online news and sport, education and children's content as well as the iPlayer are seen as essential to the BBC's mission, but the review will consider which operations to close down.

News Corporation, which publishes The Sun and The Times in the UK, is one of the most outspoken critics of the BBC's free online service. James Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp in Europe and Asia, said in August: "Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet." Mr Murdoch, whose company is set to introduce pay-walls for its online news, added: "It is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it."

Sir Michael's comments came as he updated the market on the Trust's input to the BBC's strategic review run by the director general Mark Thompson.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?