BBC Worldwide has had its knuckles rapped by governing body the BBC Trust. BBC-W must cease any future merger and/or acquisitions unless there are exceptional circumstances. However, BBC-W has been permitted to bid for the 50% of the UKTV cluster of channels it does not already control.
In many respects the BBC Trust's verdict is a case of one-step forward and one-step back. The Trust censured BBC-W over its much criticised £89m purchase of travel publisher Lonely Planet, but has not ordered the BBC to dispose of the asset as many critics had demanded.
UKTV's remaining 50% is held by Virgin Media, which has also vacillated over a potential sale. Any such deal looks as if it will have to include Channel 4, another oddball decision. "Discussions have been going on some time," said the Trust's chairman Sir Michael Lyons. "They have been complicated by different views in Channel 4 about their priorities. I think I can see discussions coming to an early conclusion," Lyons said. "There is still the prospect of a deal, a net gain for Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide. I encourage them getting on and completing those discussions."
Bizarrely, BBC-W must sell off its stakes in non-branded channels, such as Animal Planet, a deal originally struck with Discovery Networks to exploit the BBC's archive of natural history programming. However, even this decision is tempered by the fact that BBC-W can make the divestiture ‘over time where it makes commercial sense'.
"Given the primary importance of the BBC brand, this review finds that BBC-W must now exit/separate from any IP that is considered 'non-brand congruent' - that is, IP that would not be suitable for any BBC public service in the UK whether on television, internet, radio or mobile," said the Trust's report.