BBC Broadcast Up for Sale

After an internal review of its commercial businesses, the BBC Broadcast corporate team is hanging out a "For Sale" sign.

Pending the approval of BBC Board of Governors, and the U.K. Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the sale of BBC Broadcast--a major provider of multimedia content to TVs and mobile phones across the U.K.--should be complete by the end of summer.

"The sale of BBC Broadcast is a great opportunity for the business to grow outside the constraints of being owned be a public broadcaster," said Pam Masters, managing director, BBC Broadcast.

In addition, the BBC Charter is under review. The Charter outlines how the organization will be run for the next ten years, the types of programming that will be broadcast and whether the organization will continue to be funded by the license fee--$232 for a color set and $78 for a black and white set.

In an effort to save more than $615 million annually, the BBC is laying off 47 percent of its professional services staff. Nearly 3,000 employees in finance, human resources, communications policy and strategy will be let go and many of those remaining will be moved to the BBC center in Manchester.

The news organization will still support new services, including mobile, interactive and Internet broadband services.

Meanwhile, a decision about whether the British government will provide free set-top boxes to ease the digital transition, is yet to be made, the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, recently told the BBC. The price of the set-top boxes is decreasing, according to Jowell.

She does not envision a "national switchover day" from analog to digital and wants to ensure that all groups, especially the elderly and other vulnerable or poor people, will be able to have a clear transition. London and the South East are not expected to receive digital television until 2011, according to the BBC.

The BBC helped kick off the digital transition in 2002 when it launched the jointly run digital terrestrial television (DTT) subscription-free initiative Freeview, which is now in five million homes.

The BBC news organization has taken a beating in the past year and is undergoing major changes. Criticism over the BBC's reporting of the war in Iraq prompted an investigation. The resulting "Hutton Report"--a document that questioned the British Government's report about the weapons of mass destruction--indicated that the British government joined the war in Iraq based on false intelligence. Several top leaders in the news organization resigned as a result.