Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, on Tuesday claimed that the corporation was the only European media group capable of taking on internet and media giants such as Google and AOL.

Stressing the importance of the BBC’s international expansion, which he added was not being funded by the licence fee, Mr Thompson told the Financial Times: “The BBC is the only European brand that could take on Google and AOL.”

The BBC brand already has a large global presence online. BBC News, which has grown on the back of the reputation of its radio and TV services, is now the sixth most visited news website in the world.

The BBC also wants to expand its international commercial activities through BBC Worldwide, its commercial arm. It is exploring various acquisitions, such as video-on-demand services and expansion of magazine publishing overseas. The division is planning to launch, an advertising-supported website accessible outside the UK, by the end of the year.

The corporation already has an international presence thanks to BBC World Service, the radio service funded by the UK’s Foreign Office. The World Service, which is broadcast in 33 languages, now has 163m weekly radio listeners. BBC America, its US TV channel, reaches 45m US homes via cable services.

The BBC’s expansion overseas comes at a time when the corporation is negotiating its funding for the 10 years starting in 2007. Households currently pay an annual TV licence fee of £126.50, and the BBC is seeking an annual increase of inflation plus 2.3 per cent.

Its commercial rivals in the UK are concerned that an over-funded BBC could crowd out innovation and entrepreneurism in the media sector.

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