BBC Bows Out Of Print For £121 Million, Sells Magazine Business To Exponent

Finally, closure on the long-running question of what would happen to the BBC‘s magazine business, the biggest publisher of subscription magazines in the UK: commercial division BBC Worldwide has agreed on a multi-faceted sale of its assets, covering 34 magazine titles, to the private equity group Exponent. BBCWW has also agreed to sell its 50-percent stake in its publishing JV in India, Worldwide Media, to another shareholder — Bennett, Coleman and Co., owner of the Times of India. The total value of these transactions is £121 million ($198 million).

Exponent already controls several other businesses in the media world, including PR services firm Gorkana, the parenting/motorcycle/outdoor publishers Magicalia, and graduate recruitment publisher gti. It also used to control the Times Educational Supplement. It also has a wide range of other holdings that are quite some distance from publishing — including the Ambassador Theatre Group, Quorn meat substitute and high-end bag and luggage company Radley.

Talks between the BBC and Exponent were first reported back in April of this year.

There are a few layers to the deal reached today:

» Non-BBC branded magazines. These include the oldest of them all (first published in 1923), Radio Times, as well as Olive and Gardens Illustrated. Exponent will be acquiring these in full.

» Magazines aligned to BBC shows. These include titles like Gardeners’ World and BBC Wildlife. Exponent gets full rights to publish these under a licensing deal. BBC says it will retain some involvement: “BBC Worldwide will create a small in-house unit to oversee the management, editorial compliance and contractual relationship between BBC Worldwide and the new company,” the company noted in the release.

» Magazines aligned to “key brands.” These include Top Gear (which is actually a TV show but has spawned a number of other ventures eg on mobile), Good Food and Lonely Planet. These are going to be retained by BBC Worldwide but published by Exponent under contract publishing arrangements.

» Dovetail and Frontline. These are respectively subscriptions fulfillment and distribution houses, and Exponent will be acquiring BBC’s stake in each of them.

» Origin. BBC is also giving full control of specialist publisher Origin to Exponent. (BBC will acquire the 60 percent it does not already own and will pass that on.)

Because the deal already got full approval the BBC Trust in July, the transaction is expected to complete this autumn, pending approval from the Office of Fair Trading.

BBC Magazines staff and operations are all getting transferred to Exponent.

Separately, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd is buying BBC Magazines’ 50% shareholding in Indian joint venture Worldwide Media Ltd.

BBC notes that in the last set of ABC (NYSE: DIS) results from July-December 2010, the circulation of its titles grew by 0.5 percent (which it says is a “best-in-class” figure), with total annual sales now at nearly 85 million copies, with licensed editions of the magazines being published in 60 different markets.