India is a top priority for BBC Worldwide Ltd, the commercial subsidiary of the UK’s British Broadcasting Corp., according to John Smith, chief executive, BBC Worldwide.

Smith said the company is willing to invest “whatever it takes" to boost its presence in the country’s exploding media space. In the past two years, the company’s Indian operations have grown 20% after it ventured into the radio and magazine space. BBC tied up with Mid-Day MultiMedia Ltd for seven radio licences; four of these stations are on air. For magazines, the company set up a joint venture (JV) with Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd called Worldwide Media. The JV publishes 35 titles in India. BBC has also taken the plunge into local television content production through an alliance with Sony Pictures Digital Inc. It is currently producing a show, Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa—Dancing with the Stars, for Sony Entertainment Television. The company wants to expand its presence in the segment and recently set up a new production centre in Mumbai through which it intends to augment its local television content production business.

Smith said India currently contributes only 1% to BBC’s global revenues and accounts for 10% of its total media properties. He added that the company has chalked out an ambitious five-year plan aimed at tripling the size of its Indian business in terms of both revenues and number of media properties.

On a recent visit to India, Smith spoke with Mint about BBC Worldwide’s plans. Edited excerpts:

On India as an emerging market for BBC:

We regard India as one of our top-priority countries along with the US, Canada and Australia. Currently, 40% of our business comes from international markets. We want to make that 60%.

India will constitute a significant portion of our new expansion plans. There is no limit, and no real budget we can quote, on increasing our presence in this market.

Boosting presence: BBC Worldwide chief executive John Smith plans to triple the size of its Indian business.

On BBC Worldwide’s growth plans in the television space:

We are looking keenly at the local television content production opportunity. We intend to produce more programmes locally through the production studio being set up in Mumbai.

We are already on our second season of Dancing with the Stars, which was picked up very well by the audience. We are looking at more local content, details of which are being finalized.

In India, we currently have three TV channels—BBC World, BBC Entertainment and Cbeebies. We are looking at launching three new channels in the near future. The only thing holding us back is signing of distribution deals. New channels, thus, is the next big thing on our agenda.

On boosting BBC’s presence in print and radio:

We would like to launch more magazines under our JV with Bennett Coleman. One thing that has worked very well for us is the acquisition of Lonely Planet Publications earlier this month.

We would like to start distributing the hugely popular title in India soon. One can also expect to see three new radio stations launching soon. We don’t have more information on that, as of now.

On the company’s digital venture:

The digital platform is important for us. In the next five years, we are expecting 10% of our total revenues to come from online business.

We are rolling out four new initiatives on the digital front—launching a new website,, for our international markets. It will be different from, which is currently the main BBC website. This will be an advertiser-funded site, which will cater specifically to international news, and in the coming year we expect all our traffic from emerging markets such as India, to be redirected here.

The second initiative is a portal we will call Kangaroo. This will be launching in India by early next year, and will provide viewers with archives of broadcast videos that people can download mostly free, or for a minimal cost, depending on the content. This will also be advertiser-funded.

The third initiative will be ‘passion sites’, and will basically centre on social networking but with a theme woven around topics people are passionate about, such as cars, travel, and gardening. Of the 20 sites under way, 10 should be running in the next three months.

The fourth initiative is licensing programmes online, where you can get clips from BBC on certain sites, and we benefit by sharing the advertising from the website. We are in talks with Tata and Reliance.