BBC Worldwide profits leap 37% to $220 mil

As BBC director general defends spending cutbacks

LONDON -- BBC Worldwide posted record profits up 37% at £145 million ($220 million) in 2009, driven by the global success of such brands as "Doctor Who," "Top Gear," and "Planet Earth," chief executive John Smith said Monday.

Worldwide -- the pubcaster's channels, licensing and publishing division -- posted revenues of £1.1 billion ($1.66 billion) for the 12 months to March 31, with overseas revenues generating 55% of the total compared to 51% last year.

Smith has made ambitious international growth a core part of BBC Worldwide's mission, with overall growth targets of 67% of revenue coming from outside the U.K. by 2012, compared to 46% in 2006.

Strong overseas licensing deals and format sales of such shows as "Dancing With The Stars," "Baby Borrowers" and "What Not to Wear" helped the content and production arm of BBC Worldwide to an 11% hike in revenue and a 5% leap in profits and program sales totaling £241 million ($365 million).

Europe accounted for £135 million ($204 million) of sales, with Scandinavia proving the biggest regional buyers.

Smith said that Worldwide's record profits would be plowed back into programming and accounted for about 10% of the U.K.'s creative export tally.

Separately, BBC director general Mark Thompson was forced to defend the BBC's spending cutbacks and acknowledge a critical report on core programming by the BBC's governing body, the BBC Trust.

In a performance report on the BBC's main television channels, the Trust found that viewers said that BBC1 had failed to meet expectations of "fresh and new" programming and found the BBC2 needed to be more clearly defined "even at the risk of reaching fewer viewers."

The report found that BBC1 in primetime was not taking enough creative risk and that BBC2 had to increase the depth and quality of its factual, drama and comedy output. It was also critical of daytime programming across the board on both channels.

Thompson acknowledged the criticisms.

"We would like to find money from savings to invest more in daytime and in terms of 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. on BBC1 we are always trying to make services better."

Thompson defended the BBC's decision last week to rein in the generous terms of the BBC's pensions scheme -- currently laboring under a deficit of £2 billion ($3 billion) -- and said he would protect the license fee and ensure it would be spent on programming.
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