Public companies are rightly criticised whenever they turn down a takeover bid point blank, leaving no room for negotiation. Their board members, however cushy or fascinating their jobs are, have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders of the group to do the best for them, and for the group’s employees.
Yesterday the public service broadcaster the BBC turned down a cheeky takeover bid for one of its many channels, BBC Three, within minutes of it being launched.
Its rejection was too hasty and too final.
As part of its cost-cutting plans and delicate negotiations with the government over the next licence fee, the BBC has decided to take BBC Three, which has been the channel where many well-loved programmes have started, such as Gavin & Stacey and Little Britain, off the air and to maintain it online only. Fans fear its presence will be diminished, and with it its resources.
Yesterday it emerged that two independent television companies, Hat Trick of Have I got News for You fame, and Avalon, have proposed a £100m bid to keep Three on the airwaves, with an increased budget.
The bid raises the possibility of the BBC getting some return on its considerable investment and, if the BBC played its cards right, the two companies’ interest might fuel counter-offers. Hence the fulsome BBC rejection has come too quickly. “BBC is not for sale,” is the mantra from Broadcasting House.
In the commercial world, everything is for sale, at the right price. The BBC should have used the interest to flush out a debate about the future of its fringe channels. That might even have flushed out a couple of higher offers in the process.