Globally, the BBC and Discovery Communications are ending a joint venture arrangement for a pair of networks. In North America, the parties are staying together from a programming perspective for a couple of more years.
BBC Worldwide is selling to Discovery its 50% interest in the global TV channels joint venture Animal Planet and Liv, formerly dubbed People+Arts, for $156 million.
The BBC had sold its 20% in Animal Planet in the U.S. in 2006, but had retained its stake in the service operating in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Animal Planet is a global channel brand reaching nearly 250 million cumulative subscribers in more than 170 markets across Europe, Asia and Latin America. Liv is a general entertainment channel brand reaching 24 million cumulative subscribers in 33 Latin American markets.
The sale comes nearly a year after a BBC Trust review said the corporation's commercial arm should sell its non-BBC branded international channels such as Animal Planet
"The launch and growth of BBC-branded international channels is an important strategic priority for BBC Worldwide and the sale of the 50% interest in Animal Planet and Liv will enable us to bring increased focus to these fast-growing channels, and to progress a number of other strategic priorities" said John Smith, CEO of BBC Worldwide, in a statement. "The sale is also consistent with the BBC Trust review of BBC Worldwide, which was published in November 2009."
With the exit from this joint venture, BBC Worldwide will concentrate on the growth of wholly owned services within its portfolio, notably BBC America, BBC Entertainment, BBC Knowledge, BBC Lifestyle, BBC HD and CBeebies. Collectively, those services reach some 107 million subscribers in over 100 countries.
Commenting on the purchase of the stakes by Discovery, Mark Hollinger, president and CEO of Discovery Networks International said: "Acquiring BBC Worldwide's rights to the Animal Planet and Liv channel brands provides Discovery a strategic opportunity to create additional revenue and growth opportunities for our global business."
Under a new pact, BBC and Discovery are extending their long-standing relationship for co-productions and program acquisitions by two years through 2014. This partnership has yielded some of the most spectacular nature programming with such projects as Life, Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Wonders of the Solar System.
The extension comes on top of the final two years of a 10-year pact, valued at some $400 million, which was signed in 2002 by BBC, BBC Worldwide Ltd and Discovery Communications International. The original alliance, signed and announced in March 1998, was formed in order for DCI and the BBC to launch channels and create factual programming for the global market.
"This new co-production agreement continues a tradition of developing world class global hits such as Planet Earth and Life that began 25 years ago when Discovery launched in the U.S.," said Hollinger.
Director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett, noted: "This extended deal with Discovery enables us to continue producing the most ambitious and creative landmark factual programming for viewers until 2014 and provides exceptional value for license fee payers. It will enable us to build on some of the natural history and specialist factual co-productions we already have planned, such as David Attenborough's epic series about the cycle of seasons, Frozen Planet, for 2011."
Discovery Communications and BBC Worldwide have had a close relationship with BBC America here in the States.
Discovery had run the network's sales and affiliate activity from launch, but gradually BBC Worldwide America has been assuming more of that role internally, as it did earlier with advertising sales.
Sandy Ashendorf, a former MTV Networks executive, was appointed executive vice president of network distribution for BBC Worldwide America, overseeing affiliate sales and marketing in the U.S. market, in September as part of Herb Scannell's new executive management team. The former Viacom executive succeded Garth Ancier as president of BBC Worldwide America's U.S. operation in June.