'Little Britain' helps boost BBC profits by 50%

Sales of Little Britain DVDs and television formats including Strictly Come Dancing and The Weakest Link helped boost profits in the BBC's main commercial arm by 50 per cent last year.

Sales of Little Britain DVDs and television formats including Strictly Come Dancing and The Weakest Link helped boost profits in the BBC's main commercial arm by 50 per cent last year.

BBC Worldwide, which makes its money by selling television programmes overseas as well as sales of magazines and merchandising spin-offs from BBC shows, made a record profit of £55m in 2004-05.

The cash pumped back into the public service broadcaster also rose by £4m to a new high of £145m.

John Smith, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, said he was "fully confident" that the company was half way towards meeting the target it set out a year ago to double profits over two years from £37m to £74m.

Since taking over from Rupert Gavin in July 2004, Mr Smith has overseen a shake-up at Worldwide, restructuring the company into six divisions and making cost savings of £5m.

Mr Smith rejected speculation that he was preparing BBC Worldwide for sale, pointing out that, without the cash injection provided by the company, the licence fee would cost an extra £6 per household.

BBC Worldwide's children's division was the only area of the company to make a loss, of £6.6m. Mr Smith admitted the company had been wrong to treat every new children's format as if it were going to be a hit on the scale of Teletubbies or The Tweenies.

One exception is the Bafta-award winning pre-school series Balamory, set in Scotland, which has made more than £5m in television sales and merchandising rights, and sold over half a million DVDs and videos and one million magazines.

Mr Smith said: "Our success is down to turning around loss-making businesses, selling businesses that didn't make sense, cost reductions and underlying growth." Sales of television programmes and formats such as The Weakest Link, Spooks and Great Britons, made television sales the most profitable of all the divisions, with a profit of £31.7m. The Strictly Come Dancing format, renamed Dancing With The Stars, was sold to 14 countries, including the US, where it topped the ratings when it was broadcast a couple of weeks ago.

The first series of Little Britain was the BBC's best-selling DVD last year, selling 1.3 million copies, including 264,000 in the week before Christmas alone and becoming the first non-film title to top the DVD charts at Christmas in a decade. Most of the merchandise surrounding the current remake of Dr Who will not be released until the autumn, but the series has already been sold to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and South Korea, and has sold 35,000 books. A DVD of the first three episodes is at number one in the charts and volume two, released this week, is expected to repeat this success.

Big-budget factual shows including Himalaya with Michael Palin and Supervolcano also sold well overseas and Worldwide is hoping to follow up this success in 2006-07 with a major new series, Planet Earth, fronted by Sir David Attenborough and shot for high-definition TV. Little Britain also topped the charts in sales of audio books, which went into the black last year.

Ahead of the renewal of the charter, BBC Worldwide responded to criticism that it was exploiting its unique position by stopping television trails of its magazines. It has also sold magazines that do not tie in with a programme, including the women's lifestyle title Eve, which was sold for £6.5m.

Worldwide's bestsellers

TOP 5 TV SHOWS

The Weakest Link

Spooks

D-Day

Great Britons

Cutting It

TOP 5 DVDS

Little Britain 1

The Office Xmas specials

Red Dwarf IV

Red Dwarf V

The Office 2

TOP 5 TV FORMATS

[When the idea is sold, but remade locally]

The Weakest Link

Great Britons

Cutting It

Diet Trials

Strictly Come Dancing

TOP 5 MAGAZINES

Radio Times

BBC Good Food

BBC Gardeners' World

Top of the Pops

BBC Top Gear

TOP 5 BOOKS

Grumpy Old Men

British Isles: A Natural History

Who Do You Think You Are?

Francesco's Venice

Ainsley Harriott's Cookbook

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