Broadcaster mulls sale of part of commercial arm

LONDON — The BBC is understood to have held discussions with financial advisers about the possibility of floating part of BBC Worldwide, its commercial arm.

According to the Financial Times, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse were both involved in the talks.

Any sell-off would be unlikely to happen before the end of next year, after the next U.K. government is elected.

In September, the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson suggested that as part of the corporation’s latest strategic review it might be necessary to consider a partial flotation of Worldwide.

“One of the things we should look at over this period is whether 100% ownership of Worldwide is essential going forward,” he told the Guardian.

However, responding to the Financial Times story a BBC Worldwide spokesman denied a sale was in the cards.

He said: “There are no plans for the sale of BBC Worldwide, either in whole or in part, and we are not engaging any investment bank in this matter.” Estimates suggest Worldwide could be worth up to £2 billion ($3.3 billion).

One possible way forward for the BBC’s increasingly controversial commercial arm is to form a partnership with Channel 4, the U.K. state-owned hybrid pubcaster that claims it faces financial difficulties.

With the appointment of a new chairman at Channel 4, Terry Burns, who is well connected in British government circles, there are indications that talks between Channel 4 and Worldwide may finally start to bear fruit.

On Tuesday, the corporation’s in-house regulator, the BBC Trust, announced a tighter, more traditional remit for Worldwide as it published the results of an 18-month review of Worldwide.

Critics insist the outfit has become too commercially aggressive of late as it pursued an acquisitions strategy including buying travel publisher Lonely Planet and taking stakes in U.K. shingles.

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