Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Sky spend: what’s not to like?

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast May 31, 2012

Its impact in comedy and arts is upping the ante, says Kate Bulkley.

Pastel is the new black, Kate is the new Diana and Sky is the new Channel 4 – at least that’s what Jimmy Mulville of Hat Trick thinks.

The maker of Have I Got News For You is a keen observer of such things, having been around the block a time or two, and he thinks that the volume of commissions from Sky over the past 12 months means it is shaking things up in broadcast-land, much like Channel 4 did in the 1980s.

Sky is working towards a goal of spending £600m on UK original production by 2014, up from £380m in 2011, and a lot of that is going into comedy and arts – both areas where Sky thinks it can make an impact.

Comedy is a risky area for terrestrials worried about overnight ratings, and arts can be seen as too niche. But for Sky, overnights are only part of the mix: Sky needs programmes that cut through and make the pay-TV company stand out, so winning awards, as Darren Boyd did for Hat Trick and Sky 1’s Spy this week, is just as critical as overnight audience numbers.

To put Sky’s outlay into context, C4 spent £419m on original production in 2011 and will spend £455m this year. Does it matter that Sky looks like it will outspend C4 on original UK content by 2014?

I don’t think it does, as it’s all cash going into UK production. And Sky can – and will, I think – do more; remember, it has a huge war chest with nearly £900m in pre-tax profits in the nine months to 31 March alone.

Certainly the £220m more that Sky is putting into local production between last June and its next fiscal year, 2013/14, is already attracting lots of pitches and commissions to Stuart Murphy and co.

Sky Arts has improved programming and moved up the EPG, which means its audience has nearly doubled to 6 million a month, and Sky 1 has aired more local than acquired productions for more than a year.

Sky Atlantic this week announced several new UK productions from the likes of Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, Kathy Burke and Armando Iannucci. The goal is turning the HBO-output channel, which is driven by imports like the marvellous Game Of Thrones, into one balanced 50/50 with local productions by the end of 2013 – and that includes a new primetime documentary strand in early 2013.

Sky already has 10.6 million subscribers and its addition rate is slowing. In the first three months of 2012 – a notoriously slow period for pay-TV – Sky added only 15,000 new TV customers, compared with 51,000 new customers in the same three months a year ago.

So it is upping the ante on the TV side to keep it relevant to its subscribers, especially in tough economic times.

Competition with Sky on films and sports rights divides opinion, and then there is the ‘fit and proper’ person issue. But in terms of more and more local UK content commissions, what’s not to like?

Talent goes where it gets the creative freedom and the space to do new, cool stuff. I say bring on more of that attitude.

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