So avers BBC director general Mark Thompson in an interview this week with the Financial Times. Stressing that the BBC's international expansion will not be funded by UK licence-payers, Thompson asserts: "The BBC is the only European brand that could take on Google and AOL."

Built on the foundation of its widely respected global TV and radio news services, the BBC is becoming a major online presence, its news website currently the world's sixth most-frequently visited.

Eager to expand its international commercial activities via its commercial division, BBC Worldwide, Britain's publicly-owned broadcaster is exploring various acquisitions, such as video-on-demand services and expansion of magazine publishing overseas. Late in 2006 it plans to launch, an advertising funded website that will be accessible worldwide.

Some onlookers believe the BBC's international ambitions are driven as much by commercial rivals' attempts to restrict its growth in its own UK backyard as they are by global aspirations.

BBC America, the corporation's US TV channel, reaches 45 million US homes via cable services, while its World Service, a radio network funded by the UK government's Foreign Office, broadcasts in thirty-three languages with 163m weekly overseas listeners.

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