BBC comedy has played an important part in the serious business of making money.

International sales of award-winning sketch show Little Britain have contributed to a 50% hike in profits for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the UK's state-owned broadcaster. Profits for the fiscal year ended March 31 were £55 million ($99m; €82m).

The division's export successes, coupled with sales of DVDs, video and books and earnings from other ventures, have ensured £145m for investment in the public service broadcaster.

The profits boost will come as vindication for the strategy of BBC Worldwide ceo John Smith, who has overseen a major shake up and restructuring of the division since he was appointed to the role last year.

The BBC governors decided against selling off Worldwide as a whole, despite interest from major global media groups including Disney and Time Warner, in favour of smaller non-core sales [WAMN: 14-Oct-04].

Comments Smith: "Our success is down to turning around loss-making businesses, selling businesses that didn't make sense, cost reductions and underlying growth."

The entire organisation is currently in the painful throes of cost-cutting, a move which threatens nearly 4,000 jobs and which is being fiercely resisted by staff.

Says trades union official Luke Crawley: "We think that an increase in profits and increase of money coming to the BBC should go some way to reducing the need to sack staff in order to make savings. If the profits are higher than expected, I would think it would help reduce the numbers."

  • Meanwhile, BBC Worldwide executives are embarking on a mission to set up a TV channel in China.

    Ceo Jon Smith is heading a group hoping to start discussions with several joint venture partners as well as the Chinese government in August.

    Worldwide already runs the entertainment channel Prime in Hong Kong and BBC World is available on satellite. Other media groups, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, have courted the Chinese authorities, attracted by a potential audience of 1.3 billion people.

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