In a complicated deal that has taken many months to come to fruition, BBC Worldwide has sold off its portfolio of 34 magazine titles and is mostly exiting the magazine business.
The deal with Exponent Private Equity LLP, is for £121m and involves taking over all the non-BBC-branded magazines (such as Radio Times) outright and publishing BBC-branded titles such as Top Gear under a contract publishing deal. There had been interest in the magazine properties from such companies as Bauer and Hearst, but the entanglement of many of the magazines with co-branded television programs seemed to make them shy away.
According to a story in the Guardian
Radio Times, which the BBC has published since 1923, will be among 11 sold outright along with a number of other titles deemed to be "less closely aligned to the BBC" such as Olive and Gardens Illustrated.
BBC programme-branded titles, such as Gardeners' World and BBC Wildlife, will be licensed to Exponent. While BBC Worldwide will not retain ownership of these 18 titles it will keep a "strong continuing editorial interest under licensing agreements".
The third category comprises four titles including Top Gear, Good Food and Lonely Planet which will be retained by BBC Worldwide but published by Exponent under a contract publishing agreement.
The deal also includes BBC's stake in Dovetail, a subscription fulfillment operation run jointly with Dennis Publishing and a distribution front end called Frontline, jointly run with Bauer Media and Haymarket Publishing. (The various interlocking arrangements may be one of the reasons that it took so long for BBC to make the complicated deal.)
Exponent publishes a number of parenting, motorcycling and outdoor magazines and runs the online media jobs service Gorkana; it was the former owner of the Times Educational Supplement. Richard Lenane, Exponent director, said: “Exponent invests exclusively in market-leading businesses which have strong growth potential and great people. We believe that BBC Magazines is such a business.”
At the same time as making its deal with Exponent, BBC Worldwide sold its 50% stake in Worldwide Media, an Indian firm which publishes editions of Hello, Top Gear and Lonely Planet, to the owners of the Times of India. It also is buying the 61% it does not own of Origin, a specialist publisher that publishes a dozen titles such as 220 Triathlon, Blonde Hair, Hair Ideas, Koi and Perfect Wedding. The 100% stake will then be transferred to Exponent.
Most BBC staff and operations will transfer to Exponent.
BBC Worldwide generated profits of £160m on sales of £1.1bn in the year to March.