As expected, BSkyB said this morning that it will create “a world-class multinational pay TV business” with the acquisition of 100% of Sky Italia and 57.4% of Sky Deutschland. The UK’s leading pay-TV player has acquired the stakes from Rupert Murdoch‘s 21st Century Fox in a deal worth about £4.9B ($8.3B) in cash, plus assets. (Fox owns and will retain a 39% stake in BSkyB.) The combined group will have 20M subscribers in Europe across three of the four biggest markets. BSkyB will pay £2.07B for Sky Italia and £2.9B for Deutschland. It will also transfer its 21% ownership of National Geographic Channel to Fox at a value of £382M ($649M). That will raise Fox’s stake in the channel to 73%. BSkyB says it will also launch a voluntary cash offer to the remaining shareholders of Sky Deutschland at 6.75 euros ($9) per share. Subject to the number of shareholders who accept the offer, the overall cash value of the deals announced today could reach £7B ($11.9B). The moves come as BSkyB reported adjusted revenue for the year was up 7% to £7.6B ($2.9B).
The moves to create Sky Europe also come as Fox pursues a mega-acquisition of Time Warner. While speculation has been that the deal to combine the Skys was designed to raise funds for another eventual run at TW, it’s also considered that this deal has a distinct raison d’être and exists on its own … Read More »
When BSkyB reports its full-year results tomorrow, it is expected to announce a deal to acquire 57% of Sky Deutschland and 100% of Sky Italia from 21st Century Fox. Speculation has swirled that this deal is near since it emerged that Rupert Murdoch’s behemoth had bid $80B bid for Time Warner. In May, UK pay-TV giant BSkyB confirmed it had initiated preliminary discussions with Fox to evaluate a potential acquisition of the latter’s pay-TV assets in Germany and Italy. Fox also owns 39.1% of BSkyB. A combination of the businesses would have about 20M subscribers, and could also provide a payday to Fox of an estimated $13B. I’ve been cautioned that these funds are not necessary for Fox to be able to up its bid for TW, but it would put extra money in the coffers while creating a huge pan-European group. “It could just be that 21st Century Fox sees it as a useful way of generating funds and eases management time to concentrate on other things. But the reason for doing it would exist on its own merits,” Enders Analysis’ Toby Syfret tells me. It’s worth remembering that English Premier League soccer rights are coming to auction again in 2015 and extra cash could certainly come in handy. Read More »
Ramping up its strategy to build a broad international content business, Britain’s Sky has acquired a 70% stake in Love Productions. The UK-based maker of Great British Bake Off was founded in 2004 by Richard McKerrow and Anna Beattie. Love has production bases in London, Bristol, NY and LA. Its other credits include Great British Sewing Bee and factual programming Baby Borrowers, Famous Rich And Homeless and the controversial welfare documentary Benefits Street which caused a stir on Channel 4 earlier this year. The indie will continue to operate as a distinct company under its new ownership structure and will produce for all major UK broadcasters. McKerrow and Beattie will continue to run the company with the current senior management team. Sky’s international distribution business, Sky Vision, will become Love’s distribution partner, representing all new finished programs and formats. Sky already has development deals with U.S. and UK production companies including Ugly Brother Studios, back2back productions and Roughcut TV. The acquisition is a further step in the consolidation of the indie TV sector with such companies as ITV, Warner Bros, Red Arrow and Sony acquiring stakes in successful producers on both sides of the Atlantic. The move also highlights Sky’s push to increase its footprint across broadcasting, production and distribution. In May, Sky acknowledged speculation over its potential acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s interests in European pay-TV groups Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia. At the time, it said it had “initiated preliminary discussions with 21st Century … Read More »
Longtime Sky executive Sophie Turner Laing is stepping down from her position as Managing Director of Content later this year, the 21st Century Fox-controlled company said today. Turner Laing has been with Sky for 11 years and has led the expansion of its portfolio of entertainment channels, with the launch of Sky Atlantic, Sky Living and Sky Arts during her tenure. She also was instrumental in Sky’s partnership with HBO — Sky Atlantic is the home of HBO series, and the pair has a first-run output deal through 2020. In January, they committed to co-developing and producing epic drama series. Turner Laing also has been key to Sky’s overall commitment to spending an annual £600M on original British programming. The timing of her exit — a day after the head of programming of another Rupert Murdoch-owned TV network, Fox’s Kevin Reilly, stepped down — has raised speculation about a possible connection and a transatlantic move for Turner Laing.
Related: Kevin Reilly’s Departure Signals Start Of ‘Pick A Replacement’ Derby, With New Rules
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BSkyB Confirms Its Interest In Sky Deutschland & Sky Italia Stakes
Britain’s BSkyB on Monday acknowledged speculation over its potential acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s interests in European pay-TV groups Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia. Reports of talks had emerged over the weekend, and BSkyB today confirmed it had “initiated preliminary discussions with 21st Century Fox to evaluate the potential acquisition of its pay-TV assets in German and Italy. BSkyB believes at the right value, this combination would have the potential to create a world-class multinational pay-TV group.” Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox owns 39.1% of BSkyB, 57% of Sky Deutschland and 100% of Sky Italia. BSkyB shares were down 2.42% today, according to The Wall Street Journal, while shares in Sky Deutschland were up some 9.9%. There has lately been a trend toward consolidation across the European TV landscape, notably involving Murdoch frenemy John Malone. A combination of Murdoch’s businesses would have about 20M subscribers. Any deal surely would face serious regulatory scrutiny, but BSkyB was careful to say the talks had “not progressed beyond a preliminary stage.” There has been no agreement on “terms, value or transaction structure and there is no certainty that a transaction will occur.” It added that “all Board discussion of this topic is solely within a committee composed of the Independent Directors of BSkyB, in which Directors affiliated with 21st Century Fox do not participate.” For its part, 21st Century Fox said Monday, “Over the years we’ve had numerous internal discussions regarding the organizational and ownership structure of the European Sky-branded satellite platforms. From time to time these conversations have included BSkyB, however no agreement between the parties has ever been reached.” Read More »
BSkyB added 74,000 new TV customers in the quarter ended March 31. That was double the growth of last year’s Q3 and defied the increased compeition in the UK market. Shares in the pay-TV giant, which is 39% owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, were up about 3.9% in morning UK trading. Also fueling the positive market response was news that revenues grew by 6.6% to £5.66B. Operating profit and EBITDA were down 8.5% and 2.4%, respectively, although the shortfalls have been attributed to investments and write-offs in the connected TV and sports rights areas as well as the NOW TV online service which has shown strong traction. Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said the group’s investment in connected TV services is delivering results with almost 50% of Sky homes now connected. On the content side, Sky, which has committed to spending an annual £600M on original British programming, has aired strong dramas this year like The Smoke, Fleming, Stella and Moone Boy. It has agreed 17 new sports rights deals since January — despite an ongoing battle with BT on the football field. Sky also has partnerships with HBO and ITV and today renewed its movie output deal with Paramount which gives the service exclusive UK pay-TV rights to titles like Noah and Anchorman 2. The multi-year licensing agreement also includes future releases such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers: Age … Read More »
Back in February, word began to spread that longtime frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch were eyeing a joint acquisition of the UK’s Channel 5. Malone-backed Discovery Communications and BSkyB, majority owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, have now reportedly gone ahead and sewn up a deal. Broadcast reported that Discovery and BskyB are nearing an announcement they have acquired the broadcaster in a deal valued at £350M, which would give the former a 70% stake and the latter 30%. But media entrepreneur Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, owner of Channel 5, has said it received several bids and was still evaluating them, according to Bloomberg. The free-to-air broadcaster was thought to be seeking a buyer with about £700M to spend, but many were skeptical it would fetch such a price; Desmond paid about £103.5M for it in 2010. Other companies that have been said to have shown interest include Viacom, Turner Broadcasting, BT, NBCUniversal and Saban Capital.
Channel 5 is notably the home of Big Brother, although its contract for the show expires in 2015. The net also airs U.S. dramas like Under The Dome, CSI and Person Of Interest; weekly average ratings hover around 4%. Read More »
Netflix Bringing ‘Fargo’ To The Netherlands
Netflix has scored rights to new series Fargo for the Netherlands. The 10-episode limited series is inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 feature and will be available exclusively to Netflix members beginning April 16. New episodes will roll out weekly on Netflix Netherlands within 24 hours of the U.S. broadcast on FX. Fargo is produced by MGM Television and FX Productions with MGM handling worldwide distribution. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a rootless, manipulative man who meets and forever changes the life of a small-town insurance salesman (Martin Freeman). Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Joey King, Peter Breitmayer, Tom Musgrave, Josh Close, Russell Harvard, Adam Goldberg, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele round out the cast. Read More »
The Irish Film and Television Academy has unveiled its nominees for the 11th annual Irish Film and Television Awards, which takes place on April 5 in Dublin. In the Best Film category are Neil Jordan’s Byzantium; John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary; Steph Green’s Run & Jump; Stephen Brown’s The Sea; and John Butler’s The Stag. Ruiri Robinson is nominated for director for his debut sci-fi feature film The Last Days On Mars alongside Butler, Jordan and McDonagh. The Best Actor category includes Brendan Gleeson for Calvary; Domhnall Gleeson for About Time; Ciarán Hinds in The Sea; and The Stag’s Andrew Scott. Antonia Campbell-Hughes is nominated for Best Actress in 3096 Days, alongside Saoirse Ronan in Byzantium; Jane McGrath in Black Ice; and Kelly Thornton in Life’s A Breeze. The male supporting race includes Colin Farrell for Saving Mr Banks; Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave; Edward MacLiam for Run & Jump and Peter McDonald for The Stag. Female supporting actors recognized are Sinead Cusack for The Sea; Fionnula Flannigan for Life’s A Breeze; Amy Huberman for The Stag and Orla O’Rourke for Calvary. Up for Best International Film are 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Philomena and The Wolf Of Wall Street. Among TV nominees is Gillian Anderson thriller The Fall; HBO’s Game Of Thrones; historical action drama Vikings; period crime series Quirke; and urban drama Love/Hate. Downton Abbey, Moone Boy and Dracula also scored acting nods. The full list of IFTA nominees is here. Read More »
Are longtime frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch about to partner on a UK venture? That’s the word on the street according to The Financial Times which reports that the Malone-backed Discovery Communications and BSkyB, majority owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, are in talks on a joint bid for Britain’s Channel 5. The free-to-air broadcaster, which media entrepreneur Richard Desmond acquired for £103.5M in 2010, is thought to be seeking a buyer with about £700M to spend. The FTA channel has raised the antennae of several media companies with parties rumored to have shown interest including ITV, Turner Broadcasting, BT, NBCUniversal and Saban Capital. The latter is eyeing the possibility of merging Channel 5 with the UK’s Channel 4, creating the market’s third-largest broadcaster by audience. However, such a deal would require regulatory approval and the privitization of Channel 4. The discussions between Discovery and BSkyB have focused on the latter taking over Channel 5’s advertising sales operation, sources told the FT. Channel 5 is notably the home of Big Brother, although its contract for the show expires in 2015. The net also airs U.S. dramas like Under The Dome, CSI and Person Of Interest, but it’s previously dropped such titles as Once Upon A Time and Justified. Its weekly ratings hover around 4%.
Malone and Discovery, … Read More »
UK pay-TV giant BSkyB announced better-than-expected half-year operating profits this morning in London — and a major deal to expand its existing relationship with HBO. The pair has been cozy since 2010 when the Sky Atlantic channel became the “home of HBO” series. That exclusive first-run output deal will now be extended through 2020, giving Sky customers continued access to the entire HBO catalog including such shows as Game Of Thrones and Girls, as well as new series like True Detective and Looking. The extension of the pact could be worth up to £275M over five years. The partners have also committed to co-develop and produce what BSkyB CEO Jeremy Darroch calls, “epic drama of a truly spectacular scale.” The partners say they will make original drama series for broadcast on their respective networks and are looking at projects with the potential to run for multiple seasons. The high-end TV tax credit now flourishing in the UK has already brought American shows to shoot locally and this deal will likely see the Sky/HBO co-pros taking advantage of the incentives. The two companies will jointly finance the projects.
Related: Will BSkyB’s Soccer Rights Loss Be A Win For British TV Producers?
The moves come as the 21st Century Fox-controlled BSkyB has been fending off aggressive rival BT which has been muscling in on sports rights usually held by Sky. Movies and entertainment programming are the other key draws for Sky subscribers and today’s deal will see that offer bolstered. Sky has been on a drive to invest £600M a year in original British content and has committed to more than 100 hours of original drama this year. Sky Atlantic has already partnered with Canal Plus on The Tunnel, with BBC America on Fleming, and with Showtime on John Logan’s Penny Dreadful. Sky Living co-produces NBC series Dracula while Sky Arts has the Jon Hamm/Daniel Radcliffe series A Young Doctor’s Notebook. Click over for full details of the new HBO pact: Read More »
BSkyB posted £3.75B in adjusted revenues for the six months ended December 31, 2013, up 7.6% on the comparable period in 2012, the company said this morning. Operating profit dropped 8% to £595M compared to the same period the year prior. Still, that was slightly better than the £586M some analysts had predicted as Sky faces increasing rivalry from BT over sports rights. Adjusted earnings (EBIDTA) were stable at £813M. Of note, there was strong demand for subscription products including TV, telephone and broadband with 873,000 signed up in the last three months of 2013; 42% more than the similar period in 2012. The operator now has over 5.1M broadband subscribers. Churn, one of the elements that investors are keeping a close eye on, was 10.8% for the period, up .5%, but down .2% for the final quarter. On-demand usage also increased threefold in the last quarter. Shares in the 21st Century Fox-controlled pay-TV provider were up 4.6% in morning London trading.
Related: BSkyB, HBO Pact To Co-Produce “Epic” Original Dramas, Extend UK Output Deal
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The European Commission has opened formal antitrust proceedings to examine certain provisions in licensing agreements between several major U.S. film studios and Europe’s biggest pay-TV groups. The EC said today that it’s looking into whether certain deal clauses covering satellite and online streaming transmissions prevent broadcasters from providing their services across Eurpean Union borders. The studios mentioned in an EC press release today include 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Sony, NBCUniversal and Paramount. The broadcasters in question include BSkyB, Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland (Fox has controlling stakes in each), France’s Canal Plus and Spain’s DTS.
In essence, the Commission is looking at whether the practice of selling film rights for one country at a time infringes on EU antitrust rules that prohibit anticompetitive agreements. The Commission says that deals between the studios and the broadcasters grant the latter “absolute territorial protection” and mean that films cannot be made available outside that member state, even in response to requests from potential subscribers in another EU country. According to the Associated Press, EC antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia told reporters today in Brussles that the question is whether a subscriber to, say, a German pay-TV channel should be able to stream content online while in another EU country. “Or if you live in Belgium … Read More »
BSkyB Opens Its Sky Store Rentals To All Broadband Users
BSkyB set a challenge today to streaming providers in the UK such as Netflix and LoveFilm by announcing it has opened its Sky Store movie rental service to anyone with a broadband connection. The service does not require a Sky subscription, meaning all users in the UK and the Republic of Ireland will have access. Sky, which is controlled by 21st Century Fox, says new films including Man Of Steel and Despicable Me 2 are available from today with other fresh titles available at the same time as they drop on DVD. Those will rent for £3.49 ($5.70) each. Library titles will go for 99p-£1.99. There are already about 1,200 movies online which can be streamed through SkyStore.com, or via NOW TV, Roku and YouView. Sky’s had success with renting movies to its existing customers with 2.1 million rentals in the third quarter.
Report: Netflix Mulls Expansion Into France
Netflix has been a long time coming to France, Europe’s third-largest market, but is the tide about to turn? According to Reuters, executives from Netflix met with the staff of French President François Hollande this week to discuss the move. Netflix is available in 41 countries including France’s neighbors to the north such as the UK, the Netherlands and the Nordic region. A French launch has been rumored over the years, but moving into the fiercely protected territory is ornery for the streaming service given a complex film-windows chronology. There is no such protection for TV series, but many U.S. shows air as much as a year later than they do in the U.S. on traditional networks like TF1. TF1 has a VOD service that offers first-run U.S. series on a one-day delay and pay-TV leader Canal Plus airs first-run series within a few days; it even launched a new channel this year on which to showcase them. But movies are hampered by rules that prohibit films from appearing on monthly SVOD services until three years after a theatrical release. Rentals via a set-top box are permissible four months after theatrical. The windows issue has long been a thorny one in France, with industry opinions divided, but discussions are ongoing. A Hollande rep told Reuters, “Netflix wanted information about the legal conditions that would affect its potential arrival in France.” Read More »
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. Read More »
John Malone’s Liberty Global acquired the UK’s Virgin Media in a $23B deal in June. In the past year, Britain’s No. 2 pay-TV operator has added 1,000 extra customer service roles while its rival, 21st Century Fox-controlled BSkyB, said in May that it plans to add 550 jobs to meet demand and serve a growing customer base. Now, Virgin is looking at streamlining its senior and middle management ranks with the possible axing of 600 positions. The cuts would amount to about 4% of the company’s workforce and are intended to “find the best shape” for Virgin and help build an “agile and efficient” organization, I’m told. After the acquisition by Liberty, Virgin CEO Neil Berkett exited the company and Tom Mockridge, coincidentally the former CEO of News Corp’s News International, came aboard to replace him. Regarding the job cuts, Mockridge said today, “Like organizations across the public and private sector, Virgin Media is making sure it has the structure it needs to meet the needs of its customers. These proposals are designed to take advantage of the opportunities that come with being part of the world’s largest cable operator and create an organization that’s fit for growth.”
When News Corp announced plans to divide into two distinct entities, questions remained about chief Rupert Murdoch‘s aspirations for full ownership of Britain’s BSkyB. Talking to watchers this week, an issue that arises is what effect comments Murdoch made to Sun staffers about News Corp’s handling of bribery and hacking charges could have on his interest in the pay-TV giant. One analyst tells me they don’t think that any business in which Rupert or son James Murdoch has a substantial role “will ever be allowed to buy a single more share” of the company. This person allows, however, that it’s hardly clear from the secretly-recorded tapes whether there was conspiracy to encourage misconduct in a public office, “I’d think the evidence is marginal.” Still, if any serious evidence does emerge from a Parliamentary hearing or a police investigation, most are agreed that UK regulator Ofcom could take another look at Murdoch’s relationship to BSkyB.
The phone-hacking scandal led News Corp in 2011 to withdraw a bid to acquire the 61% of BSkyB that it didn’t already hold. This was considered a blow to Murdoch who had long coveted full ownership. Analysts have held that News Corp would make another run at BSkyB in a few years’ time with the entertainment division, 21st Century Fox, putting forth a bid after the dust had settled around the publishing arm. But the dust may be kicking up again.
The secret recordings of Murdoch talking to Sun journalists, exposed last week by Exaro News, reveal him saying that the practice of making payments to police officers for news tips had “been going on a hundred years” and was the “culture of Fleet Street.” Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday invited Murdoch to appear and discuss the comments and he has accepted the invitation. The Committee itself has no real teeth (and has to be careful not to prejudice any ongoing criminal cases), but it can influence Ofcom. Read More »
News Corp‘s soon-to-be-separated media and entertainment assets, to be known as 21st Century Fox, is adding its logo to Team Sky, the conglom’s BSkyB-sponsored pro cycling team — and just in time for the 100th Tour de France. The sport’s biggest event begins Saturday on Corsica and runs through July 21, giving Rupert Murdoch’s newly named company some serious worldwide brand awareness. It’s an interesting play: The sport is in the midst of recovering from a series of doping scandals that have engulfed even its biggest star Lance Armstrong, while News Corp has been dealing with a phone-hacking scandal of its own. Both now are working to rebuild trust with their respective audiences. News Corp splits its entertainment and publishing assets officially on Friday, and as part of the Team Sky deal announced today 21st Century Fox will become a 50-50 shareholder with founder BSkyB. Said current News Corp deputy COO James Murdoch, “It’s a great time to increase our commitment to Team Sky and to add the support of an exciting new entertainment brand.”
Related: Rupert Murdoch Unveils 21st Century Fox Logo: Video
IMAX president Richard Gelfond told the Israeli Presidential Conference today that the experience of going to the movies will always appeal despite the proliferation of mobile devices. “People are social animals and I don’t think they want to be chained to their couches, mobile devices and tablets. They want to go out,” Gelfond said, according to Reuters. “They recognize the fact that Steven Spielberg and James Cameron may be better at telling a story than a 16-year-old over the Internet. I think they can exist side by side.” Also on Thursday, IMAX and Germany’s largest exhibitor CineStar Cinemas said they would partner to put an IMAX theater at the CineStar Sony Centre in Berlin. The giant Potzdamer Platz multiplex hosts big film premiers and is familiar to Berlin Film Festival regulars. The new theater will eventually transition to IMAX’s next-generation laser digital projection system which boasts greater brightness and clarity, a wider color gamut and deeper blacks. IMAX EMEA president Andrew Cripps noted that Germany is an under-penetrated market for the company where it is looking to expand. Read More »