The British pay-TV giant is considering putting all its new HBO programmes on a single channel, rather than spreading them across the schedule. Sky thinks that having a single US drama channel will increase pay-TV take-up, especially among women.

It may not just be HBO shows on the channel. This morning’s Guardian reports that Sky is close to similar tie-ups with both Showtime and AMC, which would mean Mad Men, Dexter and Breaking Bad all going behind a pay-wall for at least five years.

Privately, Sky describes the lack of the women subscribers as the “female handbrake” holding it back. Sport and movies – famously described by Rupert Murdoch as the battering rams to drive pay-TV subscriptions – as well as its Sky One channel are really aimed at men and children.

David Elstein, former programming head of BSkyB, says HBO is the highest-quality content brand worldwide apart from the BBC. However, the Sky deal more of a risk from HBO’s point of view, the ex-boss of Channel Five told the BBC. Elstein said HBO must be getting a lot more cash from Sky for an exclusive deal, rather than selling shows piecemeal to the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.

TV analyst Claire Enders describes the Sky/HBO deal as a “historic move” to sever the BBC off from one of its chief suppliers. Given the UK government talking about freezing or cutting the license fee, the BBC could hardly have entered into an expensive US output deal.

Sky has also just bought Virgin Media’s TV channels, including its one valuable spot on the Freeview digital-terrestrial service, which gives it penetration in 84% of homes. Sky’s current penetration of all TV households is 48% (including channels carried by cable operator Virgin Media).

Entourage is set to be the first HBO series that’s already airing in Britain to transfer across. ITV2 has been showing season six late at night. Sky will show season seven of Entourage. FX, meanwhile, says it will show series three of True Blood, while Channel 4 will be showing the second series of Hung as planned.

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