BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the UK public broadcaster, is moving away from magazine publishing via two deals totalling £121m ($198m) to sell its business that controls Radio Times, and its stake in an Indian publisher.

Exponent private equity, owner of the UK’s Ambassador Theatre Group, has acquired all the non-BBC-branded magazines after a protracted sale process and, as part of a series of licensing and contract deals, has negotiated the rights to publish its branded titles such as Top Gear.

Bennett, Coleman & Co, owner of The Times of India, bought BBC Worldwide’s 50 per cent shareholding in Worldwide Media, a publishing joint venture in India.

The Exponent deal, which encompasses 33 magazines, has been given the green light by the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, and is expected to complete in the autumn after regulatory clearance from the UK’s Office of Fair Trading.

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.”

The competitive tender process for the magazines business drew interest from several large media organisations, including Bauer, which publishes Grazia magazine, and Hearst, the US publisher of Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.

But the complexity of the negotiations – partly because many of the BBC’s magazines are associated with television programmes – ultimately deterred these groups from making offers.

The magazines sold directly to Exponent include Radio Times and Gardens Illustrated.

BBC programme-branded titles such as BBC Wildlife and Gardeners’ World will be licensed to Exponent. The BBC said it would not retain ownership of them but keep a “strong continuing editorial interest under licensing agreements”.

Titles such as Top Gear, Lonely Planet and Good Food will be retained by BBC Worldwide but published by Exponent under a contract publishing agreement.

The BBC Magazines division reported a 0.4 per cent dip in revenues to £164.5m in the 12 months to the end of March. Profits rose by 9.1 per cent to £21.6m on the back of strong growth from specialist titles such as Good Food and Olive.

BBC Worldwide generated profits of £160m on sales of £1.1bn in the year to March.

The BBC’s commercial arm is creating a small in-house unit to oversee the management, editorial compliance and contractual relationship with Exponent.

As part of the deal Exponent is acquiring BBC magazines’ stake in Dovetail, a subscriptions business, and Frontline, a distribution business.

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