The UK government is to order BBC to sell its 50 per cent stake in cable and satellite programmer UKTV, according to the Sunday Times, which usually has impeccable links with government “sources”. It is understood that John Whittingdale, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, will make provision for such a sale in a White Paper to be published in May. Proceeds would go to the UK Treasury.
UKTV is a 50:50 joint venture between BBC Worldwide and US lifestyle programmer Scripps Networks Interactive, which paid some £239 million (€300m) to purchase Virgin Media’s 50 per cent share in August 2011. BBC Worldwide was at one stage considered the frontrunner to take full control as it had first refusal and could effectively exercise control over the buyer of Virgin’s stake.
In July 2105, BBC Worldwide reported record returns to the BBC, which grew significantly to £226.5 million, up 30.3 per cent (2013/14: £173.8m), underpinned by a solid operating performance and the proceeds of the partial disposal of BBC AMERICA.
This is the equivalent of 12.6 per cent of BBC Television’s content spend, up from 10.1 per cent in the previous year. Investment in BBC commissioned content was up 6.2 per cent to £94.4 million (2013/14: £88.9m) and supported the commission of titles such as The Hunt, 9 Months That Made You, War and Peace and SS-GB. At the time, BBC Director-General and Chairman of BBC Worldwide, Tony Hall, said that financial year marked the first of a five-year plan to generate around £1 billion in returns to the BBC, an increase of almost one quarter on the previous five years, reflecting the BBC’s determination to extract the maximum sustainable future contribution from commercial subsidiaries.
In a March 2016 speech to the Media & Telecoms Conference, Hall suggested that BBC productions were an integral part of BBC Worldwide’s activity and a guarantee of a strong supply of reinvestment back into the Corporation through BBC Worldwide, describing this as “central” to the financial health and sustainability of the BBC overall.