U.K.'s Sky Arts to Become Free TV Network, Unveils New Originals

Sky Arts director Philip Edgar-Jones - H 2020
Courtesy of Sky Arts

The network, which saw its audience grow by 50 percent during the novel coronavirus lockdown, unveils new programs, including one about the frontmen of AC/DC and the Foo Fighters.

U.K. arts and culture network Sky Arts will become a free-to-air TV channel in September, "supercharging its mission to increase access to and drive participation in the arts," Comcast-owned pay TV giant Sky said.

With the move away from its Sky Arts' TV roots, everyone across Britain will be able to watch the linear Sky Arts channel via digital terrestrial TV platform Freeview. Meanwhile, the Sky Arts on demand library, which has more than 2,000 hours of shows, will remain exclusive to Sky subscribers and customers of its streaming service Now TV's entertainment pass.

Sky Arts also unveiled a new slate of original programs and plans for "increased and deepened partnerships with artists and arts organizations, providing them with a platform to create and showcase their work."

To support new talent, the channel will also launch a series of bursaries worth £30,000 ($39,000) each that will see leading figures from the arts support and mentor diverse and emerging new artists.

"As a creative business, we believe it's important to have a thriving cultural sector," said Stephen Van Rooyen, executive vp and CEO of Sky U.K. and Europe. "By making Sky Arts free for everyone, we want to give more artists and arts organizations a platform to create and share their work and to bring more art and culture to everyone across the U.K.”

Philip Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, said: "There's never been a stronger need or demand for the arts, nor a more important time to champion and celebrate creativity. That's why we're throwing open the doors to make Sky Arts a free channel. During lockdown we've seen audiences to the channel increase by 50 percent, and our weekly live paint-along show, Portrait Artist of the Week, reached 4.6 million people with over 20,000 portraits painted."

Among the new Sky Arts originals are such programs as:

Sky calls the show "a bold and ambitious series for 2021 where artists and local communities across the U.K. will join forces in a quest to create the next great British landmark, in response to the current debate about the meaning of public monuments, and who or what is commemorated."

No Masks
The drama from the Theatre Royal Stratford East is based on the real-life testimonies of key workers in East London during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Portrait Artist of the Week
The live-streamed paint-along version of the channel's flagship series Portrait Artist of the Year will return this fall on Sky's Facebook site and Sky Arts following its success during the pandemic lockdown. 

Goldie: The Art That Made Me
Visual artist and musician Goldie goes on a personal and passionate journey into the world of graffiti and street art.

Brian Johnson Meets Dave Grohl
AC/DC frontman Johnson "hangs out and chats at the Foo Fighters' studio in Los Angeles," according to the show description.

Sky Arts Late
The new monthly arts and culture show wants to create "a feature-length space for original perspectives, debate, critical discussion and performance from across the arts," Sky Arts said.