The Big Question: Why is there such concern over the BBC's commercial activities?

Why are we asking this now?

Because the the sight of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – the presenters of Top Gear – storming across Tower Bridge in an armoured personnel carrier to promote the fact that they are taking the programme's live show on a £20m world tour has reduced to a state of apoplexy those who believe the BBC has become obsessed with global domination to the detriment of the licence fee payer. The tour will visit cities such as Johannesburg, Sydney, Auckland and Hong Kong, with Top Gear fans paying up to £105 for a ticket and the chance to take part in Clarkson's famous lap challenge.

What's the BBC doing moving into live entertainment?

Top Gear has been identified by the BBC as one of 20 "superbrands" that can be exploited overseas to generate profits for the corporation at home. It is already considered the greatest motoring media brand in the world and the show has been sold to 100 countries, including India where the car market is growing exponentially and Top Gear magazine has become one of that country's most successful titles. Top Gear is one of BBC Worldwide's five highest grossing programme titles (the other four are Doctor Who, Planet Earth, Spooks and Robin Hood).

What other global activities are the BBC involved in?

BBC Worldwide Ltd, the commercial arm of the BBC and a wholly-owned subsidiary, is developing the corporation's global website, bbc.com, which unlike the bbc.co.uk site for British-based web-users is advertiser funded. The company is opening up production offices all around the world, including in New York, Mumbai, Toronto and Sydney, in order to capitalise on the popularity of BBC programme formats.

The Los Angeles office makes Dancing with the Stars, the international name for Strictly Come Dancing. That show goes out in 40 countries. Last month BBC Worldwide announced the opening of a wholly-owned production office in Paris, saying "France is a key market for us". BBC Worldwide has previously licensed to French broadcasters the rights for such shows as The Weakest Link, The Greatest French and The Office.

Russia is the latest of more than 70 countries to have licensed The Office. And BBC Worldwide recently licensed the format of the hugely successful Life on Mars to the Spanish broadcaster Antena3, which intends to set the drama in Madrid in the immediate post-Franco era at the end of the 1970s.

Is it just about distributing BBC programmes?

No. BBC Worldwide has controversially bought in to a number of joint ventures. The company has bought the Australian independent production company The Freehand Group, which makes the Australian version of Top Gear and other shows such as Outback Wildlife Rescue. It now has sole ownership of an Aussie subscription TV channel called UK.TV.

In the same country, it has a joint venture with publishers ACP Magazines to produce titles such as BBC Australia Good Food, with Gordon Ramsay hired as contributing editor. World Wide Media is a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and the huge The Times of India group, producing a portfolio of mass-selling magazines such as Filmfare, India's biggest title, and Femina, the country's largest women's publication.

Earlier this month, BBC Worldwide announced that it would later this year launch Lonely Planet magazine, under licence from the travel guide company, in which it has acquired a majority stake. The intention is to publish the title in other key markets overseas.

BBC Worldwide also has stakes in two start-up UK independent production companies, Left Bank Pictures Ltd, which is making the forthcoming drama Wallander for BBC1, starring Kenneth Branagh, and the feature film The Damned United telling of Brian Clough's spell as manager of Leeds United, and Cliffhanger Productions Ltd, a drama specialist.

And how much does the BBC earn from these activities?

Results for the year to the end of March show that the annual operating profits of BBC Worldwide increased by 17 per cent to £117.7m, the fourth successive year of double-digit profit growth.

According to the BBC director-general Mark Thompson: "It generates profits and dividends that the BBC can reinvest in making outstanding programmes and developing online applications for the benefit of all licence fee payers."

So what's the objection?

At a time when commercial media is under intense economic pressure, there is concern that an organisation that is funded by the licence fee may be skewing the market. Tony Elliott the founder of Time Out, the listings magazine and travel guide company, is furious at BBC Worldwide's backing of his major rival Lonely Planet. At the Edinburgh Television festival last month, he called for BBC Worldwide to be sold off. In the British independent production sector there are worries that money is going on international pursuits instead of being reinvested in programme-making.

The BBC is also under fire for stifling growth elsewhere, with its lifestyle magazine portfolio taking advertising from traditional publishers, its online local news coverage undermining the regional press and its all-powerful website inhibiting the progress of the Internet-based operations of commercial news organisations.

But shouldn't the BBC try to raise income?

Yes. After the painful cost-cutting process following the last disappointing licence fee settlement, the BBC is anxious not to be seen as a burden on the public and show commercial savvy by properly reaping the benefits of the quality shows which the licence fee payers have funded.

Do the critics have a point?

It depends on the business case for some of these ventures. John McVay, chief executive of Pact, which represents the independent sector, says: "Where does the money from BBC Worldwide actually go? Does it go back into programme-making or is it used to cover an overspend on refurbishing Broadcasting House? The BBC is one of the cornerstones of British television production and we want profits to go back into programme-making, that's the only way to reward the licence fee payer."

Where will the BBC go next?

BBC Worldwide is expanding fast, particularly in Australia, India and the United States, which it says it has "identified as top priority markets".

Should the BBC stick to programme-making?

Yes...

* With a licence costing £139.50, British audiences deserve the BBC's total attention

* It is not for the BBC to gamble the public's money on global business adventures

* British commercial media is harmed by the ambitions of a publicly-funded behemoth

No...

* Maximising income from assets makes the BBC less of a drain on the public purse

* When profits are poured back into programmes, the licence fee payer benefits

* BBC Worldwide is helping to promote British cultural excellence around the globe

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
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 Media

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker