BBC makes division for commercial plans

Rival b'casters say pubcaster too commercial

LONDON — The BBC will launch BBC Vecta, a venture capital group that will use its technology and services to set up companies to sell, float or participate in joint ventures with commercial rivals.

Mark Popkiewicz, a former exec from U.S. telecommunications group Lucent Technology, has been appointed managing director of the new unit, which is part of the BBC Ventures division.

BBC Vecta aims to launch and sell 12 companies over the next three years. The first business to be developed will be wireless broadcast systems.

Rival broadcasters are sure to criticize the plan — they already claim the Beeb is too commercial.

The pubcaster, preparing to negotiate the renewal of its charter, which expires in 2006, has come under fire in the past for attempting to sell off its production facilities and studios.

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has denied the new venture would siphon off license fee income, an annual tax that generates £2.5 billion ($4 billion) for the pubcaster, or compromise its public service remit. “Virtually all of our commercial subsidies are profitable,” he told the Financial Times. “So it’s not a question of all these commercial ventures somehow sucking the lifeblood out of the license fee, but the reverse.”

Davies also confirmed the BBC would consider allowing the National Audit Office to conduct value-for-money studies of its financial affairs. The Beeb has argued this would compromise its independence and the role of its governors.

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