The BBC is under fresh fire from the private sector after announcing an ambitious magazine launch programme.
By spring 2004, the publicly funded broadcaster will have launched ten magazines in twelve months, at a time when commercial rivals have had little chance to expand.
It has already rolled out three children’s titles this year: Popgirl, Action Hero and Disney’s Animated Adventures. And last week it launched Parenting, reportedly the third magazine in the BBC’s portfolio not linked to any of its broadcast programmes.
A further three titles are scheduled for launch in the autumn: a spin-off from religious show Songs of Praise plus a title for teenagers and a food magazine. Two more publications are also in the pipeline but are yet to be announced.
Critics often accuse the BBC of straying from its public-service remit and using public cash to compete directly with the private sector. However, the BBC Magazines unit receives no money from the licence fee (the annual tax on TV households that funds the broadcaster). It is part of the BBC Worldwide division, whose purpose is to make money from commercial ventures – a task it has achieved with considerable success.
Nevertheless, rival magazine publishers are crying foul. “They use public money to build enormous broadcast brands and then exploit those commercially against rivals that are not using public money,” complains Mike Soutar, editorial director of AOL Time Warner-owned publishing giant IPC.
“I think you are either publicly funded or you are a commercial organisation. [Being] somewhere in the middle is massively too ambiguous and I don't think the workings of it all are transparent enough.”
The one launch of which Soutar approves is the Songs of Praise spin-off. “If they are serving the interests of groups who are under-served by the commercial sector, such as religion and senior citizens, then I applaud them,” he continued.
BBC Magazines has 35 titles, which have posted 6% circulation growth in the last twelve months. But it is bound by strict rules on how it can promote its magazines – there must be strong editorial associations with a broadcast programme if they are to be advertised on BBC TV or radio.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff