BBC Prepares to Extend Commercial Colonialism

03 April 2006

Although the Blair administration has agreed to shield Britain's commercial media owners from the BBC's aggressive mercantile instincts, it seems that no such restrictions apply beyond Albion's shores.

In mid-March the UK government gave the publicly-funded broadcaster the green light to "seek to maximise commercial revenue, in appropriate areas, to reinvest in programming and talent to the benefit of licence fee payers".

Those "appropriate areas", it transpired Friday, are anywhere on the globe outwith Britain.

And on Friday the corridors of once-staid Broadcasting House reverberated with martial cries of 'Yesssssss!" and "Gung Ho!" as executives from the corporation's commercial arm BBC Worldwide swapped pinstripe suits and briefcases for combat fatigues and Kevlar backpacks.

Although the British Empire drew its last gasp forty years ago, the sun has never set on the BBCW empire. It is alive and well and living in all four corners of the globe - albeit a minnow alongside US global titans such as Walt Disney and Time Warner.

A wholly-owned division of the corporation, BBCW is on course to report more than £80 million ($139.14m; €114.63m) in profit before interest and tax in its current fiscal to April 30. It is mandatory, however, that all profits be returned to the parent corporation to finance its public service activities.

John Smith, BBCW chief executive, is under no illusions about his organisation's place in the global media firmament. Compared with the likes of Disney and Time Warner, he concedes "we're a late entrant."

Among the first forays into the global market is expected to be an advertising-supported website, although by law no BBC domestic website is permitted to carry ads.

The proposed venture has already set alarm bells ringing among the BBC's critics. "It seems hard to keep these two [ad-carrying and ad-free] worlds apart in a converged world," fears David Newell, of the UK Newspaper Society.

Smith, however, insists that 'geo-IP' software will enable it to recognise whether users are logging-on to its sites from the UK or elsewhere, and prevent British-based commercial web rivals from losing out on advertising to

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff