Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Less Worldwide Travel

The BBC Trust's latest edict telling BBC Worldwide to confine its activities was inevitable in light of the Beeb's growing dominance in UK commercial broadcasting.

But the trouble is, this has come at a very bad time for Worldwide, which bought travel publishers Lonely Planet and has stakes in a wide range of UK and international channels, such as Animal Planet.

Let me explain why this is a problem. In the US, Disney took the view that despite its weight in the market, buying into Hulu was the best way to participate in the upstart internet TV market. Or maybe it was hedging its bets. Likewise ITV seems to be taking a similar view in the UK and this strategy is widespread in the music industry where cross-holdings make up for lower than average rights payments (Spotify, for example).

Which leaves Worldwide a bit hampered. I don't know for a fact, but would not be surprised to learn that it too was in discussions to take a stake in Hulu UK. Now it has its wings clipped.

The fact is that BBC Worldwide is a rather well run commercial distribution company, but it could be argued with the unrivalled access it has to some of the best content in the world this really shouldn't be surprising.

Perhaps what is needed is more true competition in the distribution market and the privatisation of Worldwide, at the same time opening out distribution of BBC programmes to all (the PACT terms of trade mean that this is already happening to some degree). After all, the BBC has already outsourced its broadcasting and technology divisions.