BBC Worldwide chief refuses to rein in activities... despite warnings of Trust's report


Refusal: BBC Worldwide managing director Wayne Garvie

Its aggressive expansion and creeping commercialisation forced the BBC Trust to place limits on the activities of BBC Worldwide.

But, in a move that will infuriate critics, managing director of content and production Wayne Garvie is refusing to change its strategy or rule out further investments in independent production companies.

He is even planning to hire a New York television chief to oversee the development of programmes related to Lonely Planet magazines.

The £89million deal to buy a 75 per cent stake in Lonely Planet in 2007 provoked criticism that the BBC had gone well beyond its remit and into areas not linked to content or programmes. 

BBC Worldwide has also been criticised for gambling money that could be re-invested in programming in investments on start-up independent producers. 

Just last week the BBC trust imposed new restrictions warning the broadcaster’s commercial arm that it must not buy any more businesses except in 'exceptional circumstances'.

In its report, the Trust also said it 'would not expect to consider a commercial deal of the scale and nature of the Lonely Planet acquisition in future'.

It had been expected that the stern reaction from the Trust would cause BBC Worldwide to rein in it activities but Garvie insisted his plans have been unaffected.

He added that all the deal made so far – many of which have been heavily questioned and criticised by the public and politicians, fitted the Trust’s new strict criteria.

Garvie said: ‘If you look at the indie investments we’ve made, all of them were in exceptional circumstances. So actually, I’m fine.

‘I don’t think there is anything in that report that means we can’t do it.

'We haven’t made any purchases of stakes in existing indies actually [but] if the right circumstances came around we might well do it.'

He also laid out plans to hire a new Lonely Planet television chief in New York with a specific remit to develop programme ideas linked to the brand. 

This could further underline fears BBC Worldwide is distorting the market with this acquisition and anger rivals, who will struggle to compete.

Garvie denied he was treating the BBC Trust report as ‘window dressing’ or ignoring what it set out. 

He explained: ‘I think there is flexibility in the report to allow us to do what we do. Our aim is to bring a substantial return back to the BBC.’

His attitude will fuel concerns about whether the Trust has the powers to adequately regulate and reprimand the BBC.

Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out, has repeatedly warned there were severe competitive implications of the Trust’s decision to allow the BBC to keep its stake in Lonely Planet.

In September, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said the Lonely Planet deal was 'the most egregious example of the nature of BBC Worldwide's expansion into areas where the BBC has no, or very limited, existing interests'.

Garvie rejected accusations that Worldwide was an 'out-of-control juggernaut'.

'I think we’ve been opportunistic and dynamic, rather than aggressive,' he said.

'Some people don’t like the fact that we’ve been as successful as we have been, but in the old days we were called half wits for not being successful enough.'


We won't let stars hold us to ransom, says BBC boss

BBC chiefs last night conceded that the broadcaster must not be 'held to ransom' by its biggest stars. 

The BBC Trust has set objectives for reducing the cost of top talent and intends to keep them under review, said its chairman Sir Michael Lyons. 

He also suggested that the corporation could reveal how many of its stars fall into particular wage bands, though he opposes making public the exact level of their salaries. 

In recent years the BBC has been lambasted for the inflated salaries it pays stars such as Jonathan Ross, who was given an £18million three-year deal. 

Around 40 BBC television and radio stars earn more than £1million a year, with another ten above £2 million. 

Asked how to lower the pay of on-screen talent, Sir Michael told Radio Times: 'The starting point must be that the BBC can attract the talented programme-makers, journalists and entertainers the public expect. 

'But we must do this without being held to ransom, and that means training up new talent and refusing to pay more than we need to.' 

The pledge to cut star salaries is something of a U-turn by the Trust, which said last year that deals such as Ross's were worth every penny and did not distort the market.