Mar 202013
The BBC investment of Lonely Planet didn't succeed

The BBC yesterday sold Lonely Planet to US media company NC2 Media. Their £80 million loss on the venture puts them in good company as established media struggle to find new online channels and revenue streams.

While the losses aren’t trivial, they are not quite in the league of News Corporation $545 million loss on MySpace or Time Warner’s billion dollar adventure with AOL.

All three stories show how tough it is for ‘old media’ adapting to a new landscape.

The problem is there for ‘new media’ as well, most ventures struggle to make money and many of the success stories like Huffington Post rely on a combination of free content and a greater fool buying them.

No-one has really figured out what the new media revenue models are; not the established publishers or the online upstarts.

Lonely Planet’s online success was due to their forums which, like most web discussion boards, can feature discussions politely described as “robust”.

This was always going to a problem for the BBC’s public service management culture and it resulted in the shutdown of the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums over Christmas.

So it’s not surprising that the BBC has decided to end its experiment and now the corporation’s management is dealing with the criticism of those losses.

While it’s easy to criticise the BBC for the deal, at least the broadcaster was attempting something different online, doing nothing is probably a poorer strategy than buying MySpace or Lonely Planet.

Over time, we’re going to see a lot more experiments and many will be public embarrassments like those the BBC and News Corporation have suffered, but there will be successes.

Someone will crack the code and they will be the Randolph Hearsts of this century. It could one of the Murdoch heirs, it could be the owners of NC2 Media or it could be some young, hot shot developer working in a Rio favela or the slums of Kolkata.

But it will be someone.

It’s an exciting time to be in business.

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