Comcast's Sky Gets Approval to Build TV and Film Studio Outside London

Sky Studios Elstree rendering - H 2019
Courtesy of Sky

The studio that wants to "become a new home for the best of British and European creative talent" is expected to open in 2022.

Comcast-owned European pay TV giant Sky has received planning permission for a proposed 32-acre TV and film studio with 12 sound stages at Elstree, England, just north of London.

Sky Studios Elstree will become home to Sky originals, created by the firm's Sky Studios unit, major film productions from Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Working Title and TV series from Universal Studio Group, but also have capacity to host productions from third-party producers.

When Sky unveiled the plan in December, it promised the studio complex would provide "a huge boost to Britain’s creative sector" lead to the creation of more than 2,000 new jobs and "generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the U.K.’s creative economy over the first five years of operation from Sky, NBCUniversal and other producers," or $3.9 billion. On Thursday, the company reaffirmed those targets and said the construction phase would contribute £230 million ($290 million) to U.K. gross domestic product for the years 2020 and 2021. 

The final design for Sky Studios Elstree includes 12 sound stages, instead of the original 14, with the ability to merge and sub-divide multiple sound stages simultaneously, "providing flexibility and scalability to accommodate productions of all sizes," it said. "This means that the biggest sound stages on site can now increase to cover 60,000 square feet if needed, or reduce to much smaller segregated studios, simultaneously providing Sky Studios and NBCUniversal a COVID-19-ready set-up for the future."

In the age of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the production facilities and digital suites on site will also be set up to facilitate remote working.

Sky said the studio "will provide much needed space for the ongoing boom in film and TV production in the U.K. – attracting the European and international creative community to do their best work in Britain."

The studio that wants to "become a new home for the best of British and European creative talent" is expected to open in 2022. The studio facility will also include production offices, a set construction workshop, a screening cinema and state-of-the-art post-production and digital facilities.

"The design has been evolving over the past months," Caroline Cooper, CFO of Sky Studios, told THR. "We have been talking to a lot of our industry partners, and one thing that came up was that it very useful to have bigger sound stages, so we will have fewer, but some larger stages." She added that this will allow filming "anything from smaller comedy up to big Fast and Furious-style blockbusters. That also helps in the COVID world where you need to compartmentalize some of your filming."

She said the studio has seen "no material delays due to COVID and "can't wait to get cracking" on productions once the complex opens, but she didn't have any details to share on the first productions expected to use it or the likely month of the opening.

But many productions to be housed at the site will be big ones. "I can say it is going to be productions to the scale of some of our Sky originals, such as Chernobyl, Gangs of London, ... and alongside some of the big NBCUniversal franchises and films that they have historically not always filmed in the U.K.," Cooper said.

Sky sees the studio as a benefit for the various parts of Comcast and the broader industry, Cooper also highlighted. "It's a great investment in the U.K. cultural economy," she told THR. "Elstree is down the street from Elstree Studios, which has a huge heritage and tradition in the Star Wars movies and things like that. They have been very supportive. BBC Elstree is also in the area. And Hertfordshire also has [Warner Bros. studio] Leavesden in it, so there is a rich tradition of TV and film and why we very much [see it] as a British Hollywood."

Cooper also highlighted that Sky wants the studio complex to be "the most sustainable studio in the world." Beyond reducing the carbon footprint during the construction stage, that will include "a huge amount of electricity produced by solar," the  harvesting of rain water and other elements.

The executive said that people "are on site now clearing trees" and doing other things, adding "we have actually effectively broken ground," with the main contractors expected to be on site before the end of the year."

Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said in December, "Sky Studios Elstree will play a pivotal role in bringing the wealth of U.K. and European talent and creativity to the world." 

On Thursday, U.K. culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: |The film and TV industry plays a vital role in the U.K.’s economy, with its programming keeping us informed, entertained and connected over the past few months. Sky Studios Elstree will become home to the best-loved films and TV shows of the future, championing British creativity on the global stage. It will also bring investment, jobs and opportunities ... cementing Elstree and Borehamwood’s reputation as 'The British Hollywood'."