BBC Trust: 'mistakes' over Lonely Planet

BBC Trust: 'mistakes' over Lonely Planet

A BBC Trust report has criticised BBC Worldwide for "mistakes" over the purchase and management of travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.

BBC Worldwide paid £132m over two stages (in 2007 and 2011) to own 100% of the business, investing a further £20m, but sold it last March to media company NC2 for just £51.5m.

The Trust said that when BBC Worldwide bought Lonely Planet, the forecasts on which the valuation was based were "too aggressive, especially as regards the unproven online businesses" and that BBCW "seemed to get carried away with deal momentum". Not enough downside analysis was done, the report added.

While owning Lonely Planet, BBCW was too slow at integrating it, and "substantially underestimated" the task of migrating Lonely Planet's business to other platforms, particularly online and TV. Meanwhile the BBC and BBCW were "not sufficiently joined up" in their approach and the delay in the relaunch of bbc.com had "a negative impact on Lonely Planet's ability to generate meaningful advertising revenue."

There was not enough scrutiny by the BBC Worldwide Board of the financial performance of Lonely Planet, the report found, pointing to a "lack of accountability" for its management and a "bias to positive in the reporting on performance, despite evident signs that all was not well". Lonely Planet was also too slow to react to fast-changing markets, seeming to "lack a team experienced in online travel and e-commerce which would have enabled more effective decision-making and quicker reaction to the revenue opportunity."

The Trust recommended that in future all information relating to investment proposals, including a thorough analysis of pros and cons, should be shared "in an open and transparent way." The BBC and BBC Worldwide should work more closely together in analysing and vetting BBC Worldwide investments, it added, with more clarity and accountability after the buy.

BBC vice-chairman Diane Coyle said: "Mistakes were made in the acquisition and handling of Lonely Planet. The important thing now is that the lessons highlighted by this review are implemented, alongside broader improvements to the strategy and oversight of the BBC's commercial operations."

She added: "It is important to view the significant loss from Lonely Planet against the backdrop of a sustained strong performance from BBC Worldwide as a whole, which brings significant benefits to licence fee payers."

BBC Worldwide also has a 15% stake in audiobook company AudioGO, formerly BBC Audiobooks, which went into administration this month.