BBC Aims for Web Windfall; Global Network of Sites Could Add [Pounds Sterling]3 Billion in Value

Article excerpt

Byline: ALEX BRUMMER

BBC Worldwide is to launch a commercial network of internet sites this spring in a move that could transform it into Britain's flagship player in the cyber economy.

The initiative will lead to the creation of a series of internet service providers and access sites - or portals - with a potential market value of billions of pounds.

The chief executive of BBC Worldwide, Rupert Gavin, has told Financial Mail that the corporation's commercial arm is in negotiations with a number of ISPs, technical partners and commercial groups with the aim of launching a worldwide network of dot.com sites.

The aim is to maximise the value of the BBC's market-leading Online services.

The BBC estimates suggest that by 2006 commercial revenues will hit [pounds sterling]1.4 billion which would give it a market valuation in excess of [pounds sterling]3 billion before any considerations is given to the huge premiums commanded by shares on the quoted internet sector.

The temptation to unlock these values and eventually float off large parts of BBC Worldwide could prove irresistible.

It is seeking to preserve the value of the sites within the corporation rather than sharing it with partners through a public offering of shares, as was suggested in economist Gavyn Davies's report on future funding published last year.

BBC Online is already the most important internet portal in Europe, recording more than 100 million hits a month.

While the corporation is prevented from converting BBC Online into a commercial site within Britain - as a result of its public service remit - it is moving at full speed to commercialise the brand overseas.

In preparation for the move it has been investing in brand awareness and has increased its recognition in its main markets from 58% to 79%, making it one of the best-recognised names in the media. …