BBC Worldwide agrees £121m magazine sell-off

August 16, 2011 1:33 pmComments OffViews:

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled "BBC Worldwide agrees £121m magazine sell-off" was written by Mark Sweney, for The Guardian on Tuesday 16th August 2011 10.01 UTC

BBC Worldwide has agreed the sale of its magazine business, which publishes titles including Top Gear and Radio Times, for £121m.

Exponent, owner of online media jobs service Gorkana and former owner of the Times Educational Supplement, has acquired the lion's share of BBC Magazines. It is taking over all Worldwide's non-BBC-branded magazines outright as well as the rights to publish BBC-branded titles including Top Gear in a licensing and contract publishing deal.

The deal will see the 33 magazines published by BBC Magazines move to Exponent.

Radio Times, which the BBC has published since 1923, will be among 11 sold outright along with a number of other titles deemed to be "less closely aligned to the BBC" such as Olive and Gardens Illustrated.

BBC programme-branded titles, such as Gardeners' World and BBC Wildlife, will be licensed to Exponent. While BBC Worldwide will not retain ownership of these 18 titles it will keep a "strong continuing editorial interest under licensing agreements".

The third category comprises four titles including Top Gear, Good Food and Lonely Planet which will be retained by BBC Worldwide but published by Exponent under a contract publishing agreement.

The private equity firm has also acquired BBC Magazines' stakes in Dovetail, the subscription fulfilment operation it runs as a joint venture with Dennis Publishing, and Frontline, the distribution joint venture it runs with Bauer Media and Haymarket Publishing.

Separately, BBC Worldwide has agreed the sale of its 50% shareholding in Worldwide Media, a magazine publishing joint venture in India, to a fellow shareholder, Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, owner of The Times of India. A subsidiary of BCCL is currently in the process of selling off Absolute Radio.

Worldwide Media publishes titles including the Indian editions of Grazia, Hello, Top Gear and Lonely Planet.

Exponent, owner of Magicalia, which publishes a range of parenting, motorcycling and outdoor magazines, is also buying specialist publisher Origin in which BBC Magazines holds a 39% stake.

Bath-based Origin was launched in 1997 – the BBC took a stake in 2004 – and owns more than a dozen titles including 220 Triathlon, Blonde Hair, Hair Ideas, Koi and Perfect Wedding.

BBC Worldwide said it intends to acquire the 61% stake in Origin that the company does not own, to take outright control, and then transfer ownership of the publisher to Exponent.

"The deal announced today offers the best prospects for the magazines business to continue on this path of success, while BBC Worldwide pursues a strategy increasingly focused on international video and digital services," said the BBC Worldwide chief executive, John Smith. "The consumer magazines market faces a number of challenges, and this transaction brings a focus and degree of investment that BBC Worldwide alone is unable to provide."

The BBC Magazines division is comprised of 34 magazines, including Gardeners' World and Bob The Builder, and reported a 0.4% year-on-year fall in revenues to £164.5m in the 12 months to the end of March.

However, profits rose by 9.1% to £21.6m thanks to strong growth from specialist titles such as Good Food and Olive.

The deal, which has achieved BBC Trust approval, is expected to complete in the autumn following Office of Fair Trading clearance.

"Exponent invests exclusively in market-leading businesses which have strong growth potential and great people," said Exponent director Richard Lenane. "We believe that BBC Magazines is such a business."

BBC Worldwide said the "majority" of staff and operations will transfer to the new company following the completion of the deal.

The BBC's commercial arm is creating a small in-house unit to oversee the management, editorial compliance and contractual relationship with Exponent.

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