But for all that scrutiny of its content, in the end it may be the BBC’s global commercial activities that finally prompt changes in the way it is funded – with implications for other broadcasters, production houses and content providers around the world.
With 21 offices from Los Angeles to Sydney and Mumbai to Tokyo, Worldwide operates 36 channels reaching 285m homes, makes its own programmes in several languages, sells 60 magazines in 57 countries as well as DVDs and audio books by the million, and manages one of the planet’s most popular websites. Programmes such as Doctor Who, Top Gear and Dancing With The Stars are broadcast on BBC-branded channels and sold to others.
All are part of the raison d’être of Worldwide: to exploit the BBC’s content and make money on behalf of the 25.3m UK householders who pay £139.50 a year for a television licence. Some £200m-£250m goes back to the BBC each year, including direct investment in programming.
But other Worldwide activities are less obviously linked to that purpose. For instance, it publishes editions of Hello! and Grazia magazines under licence in India. Recently, Worldwide bought minority stakes in three UK production companies and one in Australia. Most controversially, it paid £75m for a 75 per cent stake in Lonely Planet, the travel guide company, hoping to use the brand to market thousands of hours of BBC travel and natural history programming.
More on the BBC and the Numbers in the FT.