BBC Worldwide’s annual review revealed it paid £89.9 million cash for its 75% stake in travel information group Lonely Planet.
No financial details were provided when the acquisition was announced in October 2007.
The broadcaster’s commercial arm revealed that it is planning to relaunch lonelyplanet.com this autumn. “We identified that, whilst the publishing side was profitable, the online business was underexploited yet had excellent profit potential,” the review said.
“Significant investment” has already taken place in the website, with the BBC looking to increase the number of unique users from the current 4.6 million. The October release put the number of unique users at 4.3 million.
“The website will be among the largest sources of authored travel content on the web, combined with the insight of the Lonely Planet user and BBC on-screen talent,” it said. “[It] will be a powerful and unique ‘triple play’, with users returning to source up-to-date information they can rely upon, to connect with friends and fellow travellers through groups and community tools, and to take content to share through their own sites.”
The site will also integrate content form other BBC sources, such as David Attenborough and Michael Palin documentaries. “We can introduce a wide community of young consumers to our rich catalogue of BBC travel and world culture programming (and vice versa),” it added.
Lonely Planet’s current management team remains in place after the takeover, although the business now sits in BBC Worldwide’s Global Brands unit, run by Marcus Arthur. Popular motoring show Top Gear has also been moved into this unit, with others to follow.
In the year to end-March08, Lonely Planet netted sales of £23.1 million and a trading profit of £4.3 million, with its guide books business up 6.4%, ahead of the overall market which was 1.3% up.
However, the web accounted for a loss of £3.2 million, including development costs of the new site, on sales of £2.3 million. Overall, Lonely Planet ended the year £2.1 million in the red.
“The relaunch of the Lonely Planet website during the year may depress profit in the short-term while building value in the longer term,” it warned.