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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'