BBC to review Lonely Planet loss
The BBC Trust has ordered a review to examine a deal which led to the corporation's commercial arm selling off travel guide firm Lonely Planet for almost £80 million less than it paid for it.
BBC Worldwide will sell the company, which is the biggest selling brand in the UK travel guide market and hugely popular around the world, for £51.5 million to US-based NC2 Media.
That marks a huge 60% reduction on the £130.2 million it paid in total acquiring the firm in two chunks in 2007 and 2011.
The Trust called it a "significant financial loss" as it commissioned the BBC Executive to look into "lessons learned" from the losses.
The purchase was long seen as a controversial move because, until it took on Lonely Planet, Worldwide had mainly been involved in exploiting BBC productions, rather than buying up other firms.
The sale, which has been approved by the BBC Trust, comes as a result of refocusing Worldwide's activities and primarily promote BBC brands and programmes. The continued ownership of Lonely Planet no longer fitted with the strategy and is being seen as closing a chapter in Worldwide's history.
Paul Dempsey, the interim chief executive of BBC Worldwide, said: "We acquired Lonely Planet in 2007 when both our strategy and the market conditions were quite different. Since then, Lonely Planet has increased its presence in digital, magazine publishing and emerging markets whilst also growing its global market share, despite difficult economic conditions.
"However, we have also recognised that it no longer fits with our plans to put BBC brands at the heart of our business and have decided to sell the company to NC2 Media who are better placed to build and invest in the business."
Worldwide has said no licence fee money was ever used for its purchase of Lonely Planet - taking 75% for £88.1 million, and the remainder four years later for £42.17 million.
Diane Coyle, vice chairman of the BBC Trust, said: "The Trust's strategy for Worldwide now is to focus on BBC programme content, and Worldwide would not make this sort of acquisition again. Although this did not prove to be a good commercial investment, Worldwide is a very successful business, and at the time of purchase there was a credible rationale for this deal."