The BBC is a semi-autonomous public service broadcaster that operates under a Royal Charter and a Licence and Agreement from the Home Secretary, which is charged to all British households, companies and organisations using any type of equipment to record and/or receive live television broadcasts; the level of the fee is set annually by the British Government and agreed by Parliament.
Outside the UK, the BBC World Service has provided services by direct broadcasting and re-transmission contracts by sound radio since the inauguration of the BBC Empire Service in December 1932, and more recently by television and online. Though sharing some of the facilities of the domestic services, particularly for news and current affairs output, the World Service has a separate Managing Director, and its operating costs have historically been funded mainly by direct grants from the British government. These grants were determined independently of the domestic licence fee and were usually awarded from the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As such, the BBC's international content has traditionally represented – at least in part – an effective foreign policy tool of the British Government. The recent BBC World Service spending review has announced plans for the funding for the world service to be drawn from the domestic licence fee.
The Corporation's "guaranteed" income from the licence fee and the World Service grants are supplemented by profits from commercial operations through a wholly owned subsidiary, BBC Worldwide Ltd. The company's activities include programme- and format-sales. The BBC also earns additional income from selling certain programme-making services through BBC Studios and Post Production Ltd., formerly BBC Resources Ltd, another wholly owned trading subsidiary of the corporation. Most of the BBC's magazine and book publishing activities were sold in 2011. The BBC is sometimes referred to as "Auntie" or "the Beeb". The former is also used to refer to the BBC's sister corporation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.