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A top executive of European pay TV giant Sky, for which Comcast and 21st Century Fox have been bidding, touted the success of the company’s original programming strategy at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday.
”Sky moving seriously and convincingly into original production has really been important,” said Zai Bennett, director of programs at Sky Entertainment U.K. and Ireland. “We have seen our original shows doing 50 percent more in terms of ratings than they have done before. And then next year, we spend 25 percent more. The success is being rewarded.”
He also highlighted that besides HBO hit show Game of Thrones, which airs on Sky’s Sky Atlantic, the company’s “biggest shows” are its originals, including the likes of Tin Star, Riviera and Bulletproof.
Asked what Sky will do in terms of replacing acquired hit Game of Thrones once it ends after its final season next year, Bennett quipped: “Shit, Game of Thrones is ending!?” He then mentioned the growing portfolio and ratings strength of the Sky originals and said, with HBO’s prequel pilot being shot now, “that will hopefully fill part of the void.” Sky Atlantic content providers HBO and Showtime are looking for new hits that Sky will then air, he added.
Sky, in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, recently said it would boost its spending on original dramas by around 25 percent for the current fiscal year, continuing a recent upward trend. The increase follows another 25 percent boost during the just-ended fiscal year through June and will take the company’s annual original content spending to about 500 million pounds, or $650 million.
Its first co-production under a deal with HBO will be Chernobyl, scheduled to launch in 2019.
“It’s definitely a significant moment in Sky’s history,” Bennett said Wednesday when asked how big a moment it was for Sky. “For the outside world, people are probably about the various bids going on for Sky.” But internally it has been “very much about delivering excellence” and being different.
Discussing what Sky is looking for, he said original dramas need to have “cinematic scale and quality — that’s a definite hygiene factor for us.” Compared to British competitors, “we are slightly more sassy and fun,” Bennett said, while Sky also looks to be “more British and local” than global streaming giants. And he highlighted that “our shows have to be events” given that people shell out money for their Sky pay TV subscriptions.
Fox has been in a bidding war with NBCUniversal owner Comcast for Sky, with the latter having made the highest offer so far. Fox — which has agreed to sell many of its businesses, including its Sky stake, to Walt Disney for $71.3 billion — has until the second half of September to sweeten its bid.
Bennett, who has responsibility for Sky’s entertainment channels including Sky Atlantic, which shows popular dramas from the likes of HBO and Showtime, is a former BBC and ITV programming executive who joined Sky in 2014.
He was joined in the Edinburgh festival session by Lindsay Salt, Sky Drama’s head of development, Sky’s head of comedy Jon Mountague and Sky Arts boss Phil Edgar-Jones.
Bennett previously called for reporting audience data in new ways. “The way people are watching TV is changing dramatically,” he said. “While traditional ‘linear’ viewing is still important, more TV shows than ever before are being watched on demand, or through devices other than a TV set. And it’s not just younger viewers who are changing their viewing habits, we’re seeing big changes across the board from everyone under 45.” He concluded: “The way the industry reports on TV viewing ultimately means that we’re under-selling ourselves. We need to be more transparent.”??
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