John Whittingdale could force BBC to sell off UKTV stake | Media | The Guardian
Culture secretary considering making corporation cut stake in commercial broadcaster, which provides about a third of BBC Worldwide’s profits

The government is considering forcing the BBC to sell off its 50% stake in UKTV, which owns 10 channels including Dave and Gold, which is valued at about £500m.

John Whittingdale
, the culture secretary, is understood to be keen to see BBC Worldwide sell its stake in UKTV, a joint venture with US pay-TV broadcaster Scripps.

Scripps has previously had a £500m offer to take full control of UKTV, which was strenuously rebuffed by the corporation.

Over the last two years it has been known that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury have looked several times at whether to force the BBC to divest its UKTV stake.

A sale of the stake would be a blow to the corporation, as UKTV provides about a third of BBC Worldwide’s profits.

In turn, BBC Worldwide’s commercial activities give almost £230m annually back to the licence fee-funded BBC, and the organisation pledged to provide £1bn over five years from the 2014/15 financial year.

Selling the UKTV stake would be a blow to this source of funding, which is increasingly critical to the BBC as it is forced to make big cuts to cope with taking on the £750m annual cost of providing free TV licences for people aged over 75.

Whittingdale is currently involved in negotiations with the BBC over a new royal charter and is expected to publish his proposals in a white paper next month.

The Sunday Times first reported that the government was revisiting the potential sale of the UKTV stake, as well as proposals to supposedly top slice £100m from the BBC budget to allow some children’s programmes and local news to be made by outside suppliers.

The BBC said that the UKTV stake and the other proposals were not the focus of any discussions it has had with the government.

“While the BBC has not seen any drafts of the white paper, these proposals do not reflect the discussions we have had with government on its content,.” said a BBC spokesman.