Sky’s CEO Jeremy Darroch wants to turn the satellite TV broadcaster into “a new European powerhouse for TV content” — a big switch for a company that built its business buying in football coverage and exclusive series.
Sky put out a set of as expected full year results on Wednesday morning, its first since merging all its European operations last year. Revenue rose 5% to £11.2 billion.
More interesting than the in-line numbers are Sky’s plans for the future. Darroch is trumpeting two upcoming series that are part of the broadcaster’s “push into original content.” Up until now Sky has mainly been a distributor, not a producer, of programmes.
The two shows Darroch highlights are The Last Panthers and The Young Pope. The first is a six-part drama bout The Pink Panthers, the real-life network of European jewellery thieves that grew out of former Yugoslavia and the Balkans.
The series, which starts in autumn, stars heavyweights like BAFTA-winner Samantha Morton and Oscar-winner John Hurt.
The Young Pope is a joint production with HBO and French cable operator Canal+ and will be directed by Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, who won an Oscar in 2014 for Best Foreign Language Film.
Sky’s Darroch says all of this shows “the scale of our ambition.” But Sky pretty much has to be ambitious — it has to fight its way out of a corner.
Sky is facing two big problems right now: the rise of Netflix and BT battling it for the sports market.
On the one hand, Netflix is offering a tonne of cheap content to consumers. While Sky still has exclusive rights in the UK on things like Game of Thrones and Modern Family, the sheer quantity of good stuff people can get access to elsewhere is lessening the appeal.
And piracy doesn’t help — Game of Thrones is constantly breaking records for illegal downloads.
Meanwhile, Sky needs to be more reliant on exclusive series than ever because BT is undercutting its traditional market — football.
Sky built its satellite business around exclusive Premier League rights in the 1990s but the arrival of BT Sport in 2013 totally shook this up. In a bid to win over broadband customers, BT offered free coverage of Premier League matches to subscribers and is now committed to bidding against Sky for the rights each year.
So Sky needs something to set it apart. That’s why last year it signed a five-year exclusive deal with HBO to broadcast its content.
But it’s dangerous to rely on other people for the success of your business and Sky knows it needs to start making its own programmes to make sure it can keep people renewing subscriptions.
That’s why it launched big budget Scandi-style crime drama Fortitude last year and why its shouting about The Last Panthers and The Young Pope now.
Sky needs more than just football and good American TV to justify its rising prices right now.