Shares in 21st Century Fox-controlled BSkyB were up today in London after falling as much as 10% on Monday. That drop came after the UK’s BT Sport scored a big goal by winning the exclusive broadcast rights to 350 UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer matches per year from the 2015/2016 season. The £897M ($1.4B) deal that was announced Saturday marks the first time a single UK broadcaster has won the exclusive live rights to all matches from both tournaments (BSkyB and ITV currently share them). It was seen as a big kick in the shins to Britain’s leading pay-TV group, but could end up as a boon for British producers. Sky’s recent growth is through its entertainment channels, while premium sports and movies are relatively stable. So, increasing the pot on acquisitions and original commissions looks like “a sensible place to keep investing,” I’m told.
BSkyB and BT have been locked in an escalating battle for soccer rights in the past year. They’ll meet again at an auction in 18 months when the Premier League comes around for grabs. In 2012, the rivals paid a combined $4.8B to divvy up 154 live matches for three years. Prices will be higher next time as competition is expected to inflate the bids and as BT continues to show itself an aggressive sparring partner. Sky could certainly sit on some of its savings from the UEFA deal to help offset the inflation. But Enders analyst James Barford suggests, “some of that [money] may well find its way into non-sports programming.”
Sky has already committed to spend £600M annually on original British fare by next year. Comedy and arts programming has worked well for Sky, and a new tax credit has made the high-end drama business even more attractive. Currently, the Sky Living channel is partnered with NBC on Dracula, which is produced by Downton Abbey‘s Carnival Films, and Sky Atlantic is co-producing John Logan’s upcoming Showtime period series Penny Dreadful from Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions. That channel is also partnered with BBC America on Ian Fleming biopic Fleming and with France’s Canal Plus on The Bridge adaptation The Tunnel, from Shine’s Kudos. Sky Arts has a Playhouse Presents series that attracts top-drawer talent and airs the Jon Hamm/Daniel Radcliffe series A Young Doctor’s Notebook from Big Talk Productions. No official decisions have yet been made on how to deal with the near term, but a Sky spokesman said yesterday, “We will now re-deploy resources and continue to bring customers the best choice of TV across our offering.” Barford adds, Sky sees its services as being “broad appeal. It invests in producing an extremely good TV platform… It sees its services as being much more than sport nowadays.”