BBC Worldwide posts record profits of £145m

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The Independent Online

BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm, hit record annual profits of £145.2m as programmes including Doctor Who proved hugely popular around the world last year.

The business yesterday announced operating profits had risen 36.5 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March. Revenues were up 7 per cent to £1.07bn.

This was driven by the success of programmes including Top Gear, David Attenborough's Life, Planet Earth and Being Erica. The launch episode of the most recent Doctor Who series brought in BBC America's largest recorded audience of 1.2 million viewers.

John Smith, the chief executive of Worldwide, said: "As well as developing into a diversified global media business and extending the international visibility of the BBC brand, the company is delivering a strong financial performance." The performance has led to Mr Smith's remuneration package being increased by almost half to £823,000.

Despite the tough trading conditions in 2009, sales grew at six of Worldwide's seven operating divisions and it increased its dividend payment to the BBC to £73.6m from £68.4m.

Mr Smith has plans to boost Worldwide's overseas sales to as much as two-thirds in 2012 from 46 per cent in 2006. Last year they rose from 51.3 per cent to 54.6 per cent.

Other popular shows overseas included Dancing with the Stars, which entered the Guinness World Records as the most successful reality television format. The tenth series of the show was made by Worldwide's production arm in Los Angeles for ABC, whose finale was watched by 18 million people. The Robbie Williams Electric Proms concert was broadcast to more than 250 cinemas in 23 countries.

BBC Worldwide is also looking to develop its digital sales, which were up from 4.6 per cent to 5.5 per cent, and plans for them to be 10 per cent of total revenues in two years.

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, said: "BBC Worldwide continues to contribute significantly to the BBC through its overall returns and dividend and what is clear from this outstanding year of success is that the global appetite for outstanding British content is greater than ever before."

The group, whose joint venture talks with Channel 4 collapsed last year, said it has delivered £1bn in payments to the BBC, production companies, writers and actors since 2004. It has 41 channels which brings BBC content to more than 300 million homes in more than 100 countries all over the world.

Along with BBC America and BBC Entertainment, it owns BBC HD and CBeebies overseas. It also co-owns UKTV with Virgin Media, whose channels include Dave and Watch.

Worldwide publishes magazines with a subscriber base of 940,000 and the Lonely Planet travel guides, which returned to profit "in spite of the travel market remaining challenging after a period of significant digital investment".

In the group's home-entertainment business, following the acquisition of the remaining 40 per cent of the DVD publishing arm Entertain from Woolworths, it brought in £38.2m in profit. Top-selling DVD titles included Gavin and Stacey. "Being a well-spread portfolio business, BBC Worldwide is able to offset the impact of pressures in one market by capitalising on better conditions in others," Worldwide said.