Media Lifeline: Time Out

At the start of the new decade, the magazine's founder is forced to pay off bank debts.

1984: Launched as a counter-culture listings title by Tony Elliott while a student in 1968, Time Out begins heading towards the mainstream when it begins acting as a grown-up media owner, buying a controlling interest in the style title i-D in 1984.

1993: The high watermark for the magazine's London circulation comes when, following a legal battle, in which Elliott is feted as a champion of publishing freedoms, Time Out wins the right to publish UK radio and TV listings - previously the province of the Radio Times and the TV Times. Time Out's sale leaps by more than one-third to around 110,000 before dropping back as other TV listings newcomers enter the market.

2004: Time Out had launched a joint venture in New York as early as 1995. But international expansion (outside of licensing agreements) is slow, thanks to Elliott's determination to keep control of the company, and working capital is in short supply. As plans to launch a joint-venture Chicago edition come to fruition in 2004, Elliott announces he might be persuaded to sell a third of the group. In the end, he doesn't.

October 2008: As Time Out reaches 40, Elliott promotes the London publisher, Mark Elliott (no relation), to managing director ahead of what is expected to be a review of group businesses, which run to joint ventures, 25 licensed operations, guidebooks and a substantial web presence.

January 2010: Tony Elliott reveals that the company needs an injection of at least £3 million to ensure it remains a going concern - although operationally profitable, it's struggling to service its bank debts. Elliott is able to stump up the £3 million out of his own pocket (he has a substantial personal fortune) but the revelation raises fresh questions about the company's future and independence.

Fast forward ...

January 2012: And now, on his 65th birthday, Elliott is able to announce the sort of deal he's been pursuing for years - Time Out is to be acquired by a joint venture between BBC Worldwide (with expertise fronted by its Lonely Planet division) and Alexander Lebedev's Guardian Independent Newspapers group. Elliott retires to help his old mate Felix Dennis plant trees.