Sky and Sony Pictures Television have signed a new multi-year agreement giving the News Corp-controlled group first window rights to the studio’s new and classic movies in the UK and Ireland. BSkyB made the announcement this morning as it reported better-than-expected fiscal first half results. Operating profit for the six months ended December 31 was up 8% to £647M ($1.02B) versus £601M ($951M) in the last comparable period. The leading satcaster noted this morning that, “In a tough economic environment, more customers are taking more products and spending more money with Sky.” In the three months to December 31, the company added 615,000 products and 88,000 new subscribers for a total base of 10.7M. The period saw particular growth of weekly On Demand downloads, up 150%, and users of the recently-launched Sky Go service also increased by 46% to 3.1M. Chairman Jeremy Darroch commented, “Although we expect the consumer environment in 2013 to remain challenging, we have a strong set of plans for the year ahead.
‘The Following’ Gets Killer Ratings On Sky Atlantic
Kevin Bacon serial killer drama The Following had a solid debut on Fox in the U.S. on Monday and on Tuesday premiered on UK pay channel Sky Atlantic. In the 10PM-11PM slot, the violent horror thriller drew an average of 270,000 viewers for a 1.4% share. The numbers may not sound earth-shattering but they were more than 636% higher than the slot average over the past three months, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the premiere of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ reality show about English manses, Great Houses With Julian Fellowes, drew 2.2M viewers on ITV at 9PM for an 8.8% share on Tuesday.
Makers Of ‘Rake’, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ Feted
Australia’s Essential Media and Entertainment, producers of TV legal drama The Rake and Saving Mr. Banks, the film about Australian author P.L. Travers and the making of Mary Poppins starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, has been named Independent Producer of the Year. The award was made by the Screen Producers Association of Australia. Essential and Sony Pictures TV are planning a U.S. pilot remake of Rake for Fox Broadcasting starring Greg Kinnear. Headed by Chris Hilton, Ian Collie, Sonja Armstrong and Carmel Travers, Essential Media’s slate also includes the Jack Irish crime drama telemovies starring Guy Pearce for Australia’s ABC, My Brother, the Serial Killer for Discovery Channel, and Raising The Curtain, a celebration of Australia’s history of live theater. - Don Groves
In a blow to comers Netflix and Lovefilm, the UK’s Sky has entered a new multi-year deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution that will give it exclusive rights to current, upcoming and library film titles for its Sky Movies service. The pact will give customers an exclusive first window to Universal films after their theatrical runs for at least a year. Titles covered include The Bourne Legacy, Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted and, down the road, Les Miserables, Anna Karenina and Despicable Me 2. All movies will also be available on Sky’s recently-launched video on demand service Now TV.
The deal comes on the heels of September’s exclusive arrangement with Warner Bros. for recent and upcoming titles. That extended agreement was Sky’s first with a Hollywood major since Netflix appeared on the scene at the beginning of 2012. It was also the first pact announced with a major after the UK’s Competition Commission confirmed this summer that the News Corp-controlled Sky does not have a material advantage over its rivals in the first window pay-TV arena. These latest agreements mean that Sky retains exclusive first window rights to films from all of the Hollywood majors.
UPDATE, 5:15 AM: James Murdoch has been re-elected as a non-executive director of BSkyB. Murdoch won more support at today’s shareholder meeting in London than he had at the last one when he was still chairman of the pay-TV group. Although some investors opposed his retaining a seat, only 4.98% of proxy voters wanted him out this year compared to 19% last year. One shareholder, alluding to the troubles at News Corp.’s UK newspapers, asked if the name Murdoch is now “toxic,” but chairman Nicholas Ferguson replied there had been no negative impact on company business.
PREVIOUS, 3:19 AM: BSkyB earnings were up 16% in the fiscal first quarter on revenue of £1.715B (+4%) and operating profit of £310M (+5%). The increases came as the pay-TV giant offered new products and added 20,000 net customers to its subscriber base, for a total of about 10.7M subscribers. In response to competition in the UK streaming arena from Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm, BSkyB added Now TV during this quarter, a service that allows non-Sky customers to access movies on demand. It also agreed to pay £760M per season for rights to the English Premier League soccer games through 2014 (NBC just acquired rights in the States for a reported $83M per year).
Britain’s leading pay-TV group, BSkyB, reported increased revenues this summer for the year ended June 30 and a record jump in operating profit to £1.22B ($1.98B). Directors at the News Corp.-controlled company also saw increased payouts for the …
UPDATE: News Corp. “is pleased” with the UK regulator’s decision that BSkyB is fit to hold a broadcast license. But, the company took issue with Ofcom’s stance on former chairman James Murdoch, whose actions were called “ill-judged.” News Corp. said: “We disagree with with certain of the report’s statements about James Murdoch’s prior actions as an executive and Director, which are not at all substantiated by evidence.” (Full statement below)
PREVIOUS, 12:01 AM PT: Sky has passed the “fit and proper” test. British regulator Ofcom has concluded its months-long consideration of whether the satcaster is fit to hold a broacast license in light of phone hacking and other allegations surrounding News Corp.-controlled media properties in the UK. News Corp. owns 39% of Sky. The org today said: “There is no evidence that Sky was directly or indirectly involved in any of the wrongdoing either admitted or alleged to have taken place” at News Of The World or at The Sun. However, Ofcom was critical of James Murdoch, who stepped down as chairman of BSkyB in April this year. The org said today: “The evidence available to date does not provide a reasonable basis to find that James Murdoch… was complicit in a cover up” at the News International newspapers. But, while Murdoch was exec chairman of News International, Ofcom says it considers his conduct, “including his failure to initiate action on his own account on a number of occasions, to be both difficult to comprehend and ill-judged.”
Regarding his father, Ofcom says it does not consider the evidence currently available “provides a reasonable basis on which to conclude that Rupert Murdoch acted in a way that was inappropriate in relation to phone hacking, concealment or corruption by employees of [News Group Newspapers] or News International.” It also gave a pass to News Corp., saying it has no evidence to “reach any conclusion that News Corporation acted in a way that was inappropriate in relation to phone hacking, concealment, or corruption.”
As it increases its investment in original British fare, Sky has acquired Parthenon Media Group to establish an international distribution arm within the company. Parthenon founder and CEO Carl Hall will oversee the new business. Sky has said …
Last week, Rupert Murdoch resigned from the board of News International, the holding company of News Corp’s UK newspapers, as well as other subsidiary boards connected with News Corp in the UK and the U.S. News Corp explained the move as corporate housecleaning ahead of a restructure that will split the conglomerate into two distinct publishing and entertainment companies. Some watchers have been skeptical, suggesting this is a further step in putting distance between Murdoch and the UK print assets that have been embroiled in a phone-hacking and bribery scandal for more than a year. The taint was emphasized today when eight former employees of the now-shuttered News Of The World, including erstwhile News International chief exec Rebekah Brooks, were informed they would face criminal charges in relation to phone hacking. Other watchers see this as potentially setting the stage for a sale by News Corp of the UK papers which now include The Sunday Times and tabloid The Sun. If Murdoch no longer sits on the News International board, in other words, it makes it more plausible for a sale of that company to go through down the line. Still another view is that distancing himself from his beloved British press holdings is a means to clear the way for the acquisition of the long-coveted 61% stake in British satcaster BSkyB that News Corp does not already own.
A report commissioned by BSkyB detailing the company’s economic footprint hopes to provide “a good example of the important contribution that a successful British company can make, particularly at a time when economic growth is harder to come by.” The report also comes at the same time as UK regulator Ofcom is deciding whether it is fit to hold a broadcast license in light of the scandals at News Corp-controlled newspapers. News Corp owns 39% of BSkyB and the consideration of whether a licensee is “fit and proper” takes into account any relevant misconduct of those who manage and control it.
A major question swirling around News Corp since last week’s announcement that the company will divide itself in two has been whether another run will be made at the 61% of British satcaster BSkyB that News Corp does not already hold. UK regulator Ofcom is currently weighing whether News Corp is fit to own a broadcast license at all in light of the phone-hacking scandal at its UK print business. And, although the org isn’t commenting publicly, I understand that News Corp’s intent to divide may be taken into consideration for the “fit and proper” test. All information and evidence that’s available will continue to be assessed as the process is ongoing, I’m hearing. There is no time frame for Ofcom’s decision, but contrary to some reports, no announcement is expected before the Olympics later this month.
Although News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch told Fox News last week, “We’ve moved on in our thinking….I’m much more bullish about America,” Panmure Gordon media analyst Alex De Groote tells me he thinks another attempt to acquire BSkyB will happen “two to three years down the line.” He calls the move to split News Corp “tactically quite shrewd” as it detaches the tainted UK print assets from the entertainment division. But, he says, “Even if phone hacking had never happened, shareholders would have legitimately pushed” to separate the businesses. De Groote calls it getting away from what’s known as “the conglomerate discount”, which reflects the difference between what a conglom’s holdings are worth and the real value the market places on the whole. He adds that “Everything is about survival in the long term. In the short term, it’s sacrifice the British newspapers and everybody who gets in the way. The long term is preserving the Murdoch family and the medium term is to get BSkyB.”
The News Corp CEO just said in an interview on Fox News that his son is happy running his businesses in Australia. And there’s no decision yet about whether Rupert’s other kids — including James and Elisabeth Murdoch — might play bigger roles once the media giant is divided into an entertainment company and a publishing one. “They have to earn it, and they have to want it,” Rupert says. He also told interviewer Neil Cavuto that he’s no longer interested in BSkyB. “We’ve moved on in our thinking….I’m much more bullish about America.” Europe is in for “a tough, long haul” and possibly a recession, while “we’ve got things to be very bullish about in this country.” No, he isn’t tacitly endorsing President Obama. “I’m taking a medium and long term view” of the economy. Indeed, he says that the presidential election might not have a big impact on News Corp although “if taxes go up, we’ll have less cash. If that happens, the economy will go down.”
The UK government and regulator, Ofcom, are taking the next steps to bring the Digital Economy Act’s mass notification system on copyright infringement into effect. After a court case slowed down the legislation, Ofcom’s new draft code is now expected to head to Parliament later this year. The code calls on ISPs to alert subscribers when their connection is suspected of being used to illegally share films or music. For now, the code covers ISPs with more than 400K broadband customers including BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin. BT and Talk Talk had previously argued that it was not for them to police their customers, but they lost on appeal. ISPs will also be required to explain to subscribers how they can protect their networks and where they can find licensed content. Copyright owners in turn are expected to invest in awareness campaigns and develop “attractive online services to offer their content.” The government, for its part, has put secondary legislation before Parliament that would see the notification system paid for by rights holders with ISPs paying a smaller element.
LONDON and SANTA MONICA, June 18, 2012 – Leading global film and television studio Miramax and BSkyB (Sky), the most comprehensive multichannel, multi-platform television service in the UK and Ireland, today announced the completion of a new licensing deal.
Under the terms of the agreement, Sky will hold exclusive rights to a substantial package of Miramax films including Academy Award® winning Life is Beautiful, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Spy Kids, and Starsky & Hutch among others. These titles will be delivered across the range of Sky Movies subscription channels in high definition (HD), through Sky’s on-demand service Sky Anytime+ and on the move via Sky Go.
A Labour Party motion calling for an investigation into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s handling of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB has been quashed in Britain’s House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party prevailed in the vote, winning by 290 to 252. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had called for his Liberal Democrats to abstain in what now looks like an effort to make a point in the face of Cameron’s earlier independent decision not to launch a Hunt probe.
Overall, Clegg cut a humble figure at Leveson saying he was basically relegated to the kids’ table the first time he met Rupert Murdoch. His party faced “indifference at best, and derision at worst” from Murdoch execs, he said. Still, regarding BSkyB, he was told by a Parliamentary aide that it “would be good for the Lib Dems to be open to the bid, otherwise we would expect no favorable treatment from the Murdoch press.” Clegg said he once questioned the timing of News Corp’s bid for the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own since news of the acquisition came right after the 2010 general election. Clegg said he was “quizzical,” so, he asked Murdoch at News International’s summer party that year, “Why are you doing this now?” The answer, Clegg said, was not revealing.