Gavin ankles Beeb

Worldwide chief oversaw commercial boom

This article was updated on July 18, 2004 at 2:57 p.m.

LONDON — Rupert Gavin has quit unexpectedly as chief executive of BBC Worldwide, prompting speculation that he is planning a bid to buy out the pubcaster’s commercial arm.

A week ago, the BBC announced a review of its entire commercial activities, and BBC Worldwide is widely touted as a candidate for sell-off.

The division has been hugely successful under Gavin, who joined from British Telecom in 1998. Sales have risen by 96% in the past five years, reaching £657 million ($1.18 billion) last year, when it returned a record $254 million in cash to the BBC coffers.

But its exploitation of the BBC brand and content across a wide range of fields has drawn criticism that the pubcaster has expanded too aggressively into the commercial arena.

The BBC Worldwide empire spans magazine and book publishing; the Internet; merchandizing; DVD distribution; international program sales; and channel development, including BBC America.

This is a sensitive area as the BBC enters negotiations with the government over the renewal of its Royal Charter in 2006. The Royal Charter dictates how the BBC can raise its financing through the license fee, and the nature of public service it must deliver in return.

Commercial rivals have complained that the BBC’s activities amount to unfair competition that damages their business.

Gavin, who is privately wealthy as a theater producer and partner in the Ambassadors Theater Group, announced his exit without indicating his future plans. He said, “It feels like the right time to make this move.”

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