BBC 'opens back door' to advertising

No logo?: Corporation's commercial arm comes under fire after making £2m from sponsored award ceremonies
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The Independent Online

The BBC has been accused of introducing "advertising by the back door" after securing television sponsorship deals worth more than £2m.

The corporation's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, is offering companies the chance to parade their logos on the screen in return for financing award ceremonies and "event" shows such as the Royal Variety Performance.

In the past six months alone, more than £2m has been raised by a sponsorship unit set up to capitalise on the popularity of some of the BBC's longest-running series.

Top of the Pops, Tomorrow's World and Blue Peter are all set to launch TV awards programmes funded in this way, while sponsors are also being sought for the Young Musician of the Year competition and a new talent contest inspired by the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Not all the sponsorship opportunities available are for televised events. Following the success of concerts by the Tweenies, preparations are under way for a tour by the Teletubbies, as well as sponsored Tomorrow's World and Blue Peter roadshows.

The unit is also developing rollercoaster rides inspired by hit series Blue Planet and Walking with Dinosaurs. Its aim is to licence the rides to theme parks and fun fairs.

BBC Worldwide is adamant thatsponsorship does not conflict with the corporation's charter, which precludes any form of commercial involvement that could be construed as advertising.

Stuart Snaith, BBC Worldwide's director of video, sponsorship and events, said sponsoring would be limited to a brief verbal mention, a single shot of a corporate logo, and one written credit at the beginning or end of the programme. "We've raised about £2m in the first six months of the unit, which compares to an overall annual income for BBC Worldwide of around £500m. There's no reason why, in a couple of years' time, we shouldn't [make] about £5m a year."

Critics say sponsorship smacks of an attempt to subsidise the money the BBC receives through the licence fee with covert advertising. Mick Desmond, the managing director of Granada broadcasting enterprises, who oversees programme sponsorship for ITV, said: "The BBC have been encroaching on to commercial ground for some time. They do it subtly and cleverly. I take the view that this is advertising by the back door.

"It is our view that you cannot be a public service broadcaster taking a licence fee and then take commercial money in this way."

Jocelyn Hay, the chairwoman of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, said: "The BBC's increasingly commercial activities must be closely monitored. If it becomes too commercial, there's a fear that the integrity of its programmes and the motivation behind them will be compromised."

Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the Commons culture select committee and an advocate of privatising the BBC, said: "If they used any of this money to cross-subsidise from commercial activities on to licence-funded programmes then there would be very serious concerns that this was in breach of the BBC charter."

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