The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents

Sky's Investment in UK Originated Content supplementary briefing for the Lords Communications Committee


    — We are pleased to be given the opportunity to supply the Committee with further evidence of our considerable and growing investment in high quality arts, comedy, factual and children's programming in the UK. Sky currently invests £1.75 billion in content, of which approximately £1 billion is spent on originated content. In addition to the content we commission for our Sky branded channels we also support UK programming through our £323m investment in our third party channel partners such as AETN (History, Military History, Bio, and Crime and Investigation), National Geographic, and Nickelodeon.

    — As a pay TV broadcaster our investment decisions are based on what customers want and are willing to pay for. We recognise that people care about the quality and variety of content available in genres that interest them, and just as we saw the opportunity to tap into people's passions for news, movies and sports we now see the opportunity to provide more high quality UK originated arts, comedy, drama and factual programming.

    — Sky does not publish details of our investment in specific genres, instead we judge our investment by the quality of the output we create and the value it generates for viewers. The supplementary evidence provided below is intended to help the Committee understand the extent of Sky's commitment to producing high quality UK originated content and our ambitious plans going forward.

Sky Arts:

    — Sky has four Sky Arts Channels, including two dedicated HD channels, broadcasting 36 hours of arts programming per day, more than double the monthly output of arts programming on all five terrestrial channels.

    — The channels provide viewers with high quality and groundbreaking content including the world's first simulcast opera in 2009—with the opening night performance of Jonathan Miller's La Boehme at the ENO broadcast on Sky Arts 2 while Sky Arts 1 simultaneously broadcast behind the scenes. We also commissioned and broadcast the first live drama on British TV for nearly 30 years with Theatre Live; and broadcast unprecedented access to The Theatre Royal Haymarket, featuring Sir Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart's performances in Waiting For Godot.

    — Recognising the demand and popularity of the content we produce, our investment in original arts commissions has increased significantly in the three years, since Artsworld joined the Sky family of channels, growing from zero in 2005 to 46.5 hours in 2007, 73 hours in 2008 and this year Sky Arts expect to broadcast 200 hours of originated programming, representing nearly 25% of the channel's output.

    — Sky's investment in the arts also extends beyond the screen, taking the arts to wider audiences, through partnerships with leading arts organisations such as experiential artists Artichoke—the first project being Antony Gormley's "One & Other" which saw the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square populated by a different individual every hour of the day for 100 days, the ENB and the Hay Festival.

Entertainment—comedy, drama and specialist factual

    — Sky's vision for its entertainment channels is highly ambitious and our commissioning policy has moved to producing higher quality but less volume productions whose cost per episode significantly exceeded the amounts previously paid. For example on Sky 1 while the hours of first run original content decreased from around 233 in 2007 to 215 hours in 2008 our level of investment increased. This has helped cement the positioning of the channel in the audience's eyes as a serious entertainment channel—culminating in Sky1 winning Entertainment Channel of the Year 2008 at the Broadcast Digital Awards where our industry peers recognised Sky1's successes stating: "At its peak, it reaches heights few rivals can match—and those peaks are coming round much more regularly." They added: "Sky1 has a strong balance of programming and the best choice of original commissions—huge shows, punching above their weight."


    — Nowhere has this strategy been more evident than in drama. The success of Sky's first two Terry Pratchett adaptations, Hogfather and Colour of Magic, led to the announcement of a multi-million pound investment in homegrown, high-definition drama in March 2008. We commissioned and aired an adaptation of Martina Coles's The Take and David Almond's Skellig in 2009. Forthcoming commissioned drama includes a third Terry Pratchett adaptation, the recently wrapped Going Postal, due to air in April 2010; an adaptation of Chris Ryan's Strike Back and Elaine Pyke, Sky1's Head of Drama, has also greenlit 10 Minute Tales—11 ten-minute silent films, each by a different writer and director, and showcasing some of Britain's best on and off screen talent. Finally, in early 2010 we will start production on an adaption of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne series starring David Morrisey.


    — Sky is also broadening its investment in UK originated comedy programming and is aiming to develop comedy dramas, similar to classic series such as The Darling Buds of May, as well as sitcoms and sketch shows. Lucy Lumsden, former Head of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC, has now joined Sky to take this forward and there are currently a dozen scripts already in development.

Specialist Factual

    — The highly acclaimed documentary series featuring Ross Kemp highlights Sky's growing commitment to high quality factual content and represents some of our most popular programming. Following on from the BAFTA award winning Ross Kemp on Gangs series, the Afghanistan series was also nominated for Best Factual Series at the 2009 BAFTAS, and the latest series, Ross Kemp in the Middle East, has just completed filming. He will also be visiting the Amazon rainforest to investigate deforestation for two documentaries to be broadcast in early January 2010, in support of the Sky Rainforest Rescue campaign. Other critical and commercial successes in 2009 include Mario and Nini: A Childhood Under Threat that shadowed two boys struggle growing up surrounded by violence and crime over seven years; Ben: Diary of a Heroin Addict, a documentary that exposed the ugly truth about drug-taking from the home videos of someone who eventually lost their battle to drugs; Goodbye Basra an honest and controversial account of the British troops withdrawal; and the upcoming War Torn, an inspiring documentary chronicling the experiences of injured British service personnel as they scaled the Everest region of the Himalayas. Each film offered a distinctive voice on hard-hitting subject matters and played a decisive role in showcasing Sky1's factual offering.

    — Sky also makes a significant investment in factual content production through our channel partners including National Geographic and History. Like Sky, these channels recognise the importance of high quality British programming and their emphasis is also increasingly on commissioned UK series. For example:

    — National Geographic's investment in UK originated programming has increased from 117 commissioned hours in 2006 to 179.5 hours in 2008 and it expects to have commissioned and broadcast around 213.5 hours in 2009. It's highly popular programming includes Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections, Sea Patrol and Britain's Greatest Machines with Chris Barrie.

    — The AETN stable of channels (HISTORY, Military History, Bio and Crime and Investigation) now commission and co-produce around 250 hours of content annually. Programmes include the award winning Falklands series and 50 Things You Need To Know about British History on HISTORY. In many cases co-production is undertaken with another UK broadcaster and the production company is UK based. If co-productions are excluded AETN still expects that it will have commissioned 84 UK commissioned hours by the end of the 2009-10 financial year, up from 71 hours in the last financial year. Looking ahead, AETN estimates that this figure will reach 90 hours of purely UK commissioned programming in 2010-11 financial year.

Children's Programming

    — As a joint venture holder with Nickelodeon Sky also supports the creation of highly valued children's programming in the UK. As with AETN and National Geographic, Nickelodeon also recognises the importance of high quality local programming and their emphasis they have also increased their investment in commissioned UK series in recent years. This has led to a rise in the number of UK originated commissioned hours from 30.1 hours in 2007, to 49.5 in 2008 and Nickelodeon estimate that this figure will reach 55.5 hours by the end of 2009.

    — In addition to long form programming Nickelodeon also invests in original short form content, which provides additional entertainment, learning opportunities and enjoyment for their audiences including See Something Say Something (as part of Nickelodeon's anti-bullying campaign), Log Jam and Watermill Farm (all of which have been recently nominated for Children's BAFTAs 2009), as well as blocks such as Wake Up World (mornings on Nick Jr) which includes interstitials such as Are you ready (helping pre-schoolers prepare for the day) and mechanics to teach children the time.

    — Nickelodeon also makes a significant creative and financial investment through second run programming (ie where a programme is shown on another channel prior to Nickelodeon network channels), for example Peppa Pig and THE GRUFFALO special where, without Nickelodeon UK's significant investment, the shows may not have been made.


    — Sky's considerable commitment to UK originated content goes much further than arts, entertainment, and factual content. It continues to make a significant investment in programming across all 26 of the Sky branded channels including the 40,000 hours broadcast a year of sports coverage and analysis of over 100 different sports, the 24/7 news services that reach on average 10 million TV viewers per month, and the 12 different film related programmes that Sky Movies produces every month, covering every single British Film that is released in this country. This commitment also extends beyond the Sky branded channels through the joint venture partnerships that own 21 of the 159 Sky distributed channels on our platform, including Nickelodeon, National Geographic, Comedy Central and HISTORY.

    — Taken overall, Sky's massive investment in its digital platform has brought substantial benefits to the UK and has enabled a huge range and diversity of content to be made available to UK citizens. As we have highlighted innovation is in Sky's DNA and we will continue to go on pushing boundaries as we are through our extensive investment in content and new technologies such as HD and 3DTV, offering viewers greater choice, quality and innovation.

November 2009

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