Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Start of a new era for UKTV

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast July 28, 2011

Plans are beginning to emerge after Scripps deal, says Kate Bulkley.

Scripps Networks Interactiveís bid to buy Virgin Mediaís 50% stake in UKTV dragged on for nearly a year, but as Broadcast revealed last week, the final handshake has taken place and the Ďiís are now being dotted and the Ďtís crossed.

The delay has meant UKTV has been a little quiet, but some information is now emerging - and very interesting it is too. First, I hear several of UKTVís own channels - led by Dave - are lined up to launch in HD on Sky. That would add a new revenue line, and fits UKTVís strategy of putting energy into both free-to-air and pay-TV offers.

Dave has been a long-time Freeview channel, but Dave Ja Vu (its +1 cousin) will disappear from the Freeview platform in early August to be replaced by Really(lifestyle, female skewed), broadening UKTVís presence on Freeview.

Yesterday (thatís the factual one) took primetime Freeview capacity a year ago, meaning three of UKTVís 10 channels will be free-to-air and more might go the same way in the future, although UKTVís new shareholder may wince at the cost of Freeview slots, which run in the high single-digit millions.

Scripps also believes in the hybrid strategy of free and pay. You only have to look at its Food Network channel in this country: it is on Sky (but not yet Virgin) and it launched a four-hour-a-day slot on Freeview in early July. Edging further into the free-toair market should also ease some of the concerns Scripps may have had about the number of ad impressions Channel 4 would have been able to deliver under its new UKTV sales contract.

This strategy convergence between Scripps and UKTVís other shareholder, BBC Worldwide, should also mean less rocking of the UKTV boat when the deal is finally done. And itís always good to have some counterweight against Sky.

Iím also told Scripps doesnít think that having two food channels in the UK is a problem. It plans to continue Food Network UK as a standalone channel rather than combine it with UKTVís Good Food, programming them in a ďcomplementaryĒ way. Food Network will likely become more international, and Good Food more British.

All the UKTV lifestyle channels will likely benefit from Scripps as a co-production partner, as it believes becoming a bigger part of the UK broadcasting and production scene will help feed its channels worldwide.

Local programming is a big agenda item at UKTV, with as many as 30 new UK commissions set to launch across its channels in the second half of this year.

There is also early talk about a UK launch for Scrippsí Travel Channel.

One question that remains unanswered is the volume of non-linear programming rights BBC Worldwide will make available to UKTV.

UKTVís plan to offer an archive and/or catch-up VoD programming via an online player looks likely to be focused on YouView, the connected device platform that has plans to launch next year.

Exactly what will be included is still unclear, although it must have satisfied Scripps sufficiently for it to agree the deal. Once it formally takes over Virgin Mediaís 50% stake, the next phase in UKTVís evolution will really begin.

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