BBC Worldwide takes stake in Baby Cow

Founders Coogan, Normal will retain creative control

LONDON -- BBC Worldwide, the commercial division of the Brit pubcaster, sealed a deal Tuesday for a minority stake in Steve Coogan's Baby Cow Prods., the indie behind such shows as "Gavin and Stacey" and "The Mighty Boosh."

The move is likely to provoke more consternation about the BBC's burgeoning commercial activities from industry observers.

BBC Worldwide is reported to have taken a 25% stake in Baby Cow -- though the details have not been made public. Baby Cow founders Henry Normal and actor-comedian Coogan will retain creative control of the company but use the relationship with BBC Worldwide to develop production opportunities abroad. The deal also will continue their existing distribution arrangement.

The deal was brokered with BBC Worldwide head of independents Helen Jackson, who said that the deal is a natural extension of a working relationship that went back almost 10 years.

The acquisition will raise eyebrows among the BBC's detractors, who already think the pubcaster's commercial arm wields too much power in the marketplace.

Such concerns have triggered an investigation into BBC Worldwide's remit by the all-party Culture Media and Sport select committee, which is due to begin taking evidence in the next few months.

In the past year, BBC Worldwide has picked up minority stakes in such high-profile indie producers as Andy Harries' Left Bank Prods. and "Top Gear" host Jeremy Clarkson's Bedder 6 Prods. as well as securing majority ownership of travel publisher Lonely Planet.