BBC boss Lord Tony Hall has warned that any attempt to sell or separate the broadcaster’s commercial arm from the rest of the organisation would risk investment in future programming.
Ministers have reportedly considered forcing the corporation to sell BBC Worldwide which exploits top BBC brands and content around the world, generating cash which tops up the money raised by the UK’s licence fee.
According to Worldwide’s latest annual report, the firm’s commercial activities returned £226.5m to the public side of the BBC last year.
Hall used the publication of the BBC and Worldwide’s annual figures to stress the importance of this money, saying that in some cases it accounted for more than half of some dramas’ budgets and “seventy-one per cent” of the budget for BBC One’s Life Story.
The Director-General described BBC Worldwide as “an integral part of the BBC” which he said “gives licence fee payers better content for less investment” and insisted “any proposal to remove it from the BBC simply doesn’t make economic sense.”
Hall also used today to address critics of the government’s recent decision to ask the broadcaster to fund the provision of free TV licences for over 75 year olds.
He accepted the deal, which also includes a commitment to extend the licence free to cover iPlayer use, “was not a good process, or one that met the public’s expectations” but said he was “much happier starting that debate from a shared agreement around flat cash funding for BBC services, rather than starting off down around three-quarters of a billion pounds.”
He added that minds now needed to focus on “the kind of BBC we want” in an age where increasing amounts of the commercial broadcasting and media landscape is owned by “global media giants” rather than local producers and broadcasters.
And, in an apparent swipe at suggestions the BBC should focus on ‘worthy’ programmes and leave popular entertainment to the commercial sector, Hall said it was important the broadcaster and staff be able work without “artificial restrictions on creativity,” noting that “the last time politicians tried to be creative, we ended up with the Millennium Dome.”