WHAT CRISIS? Defiant Sky Focuses On Ambitious Slate In Face Of News Corp Mess

Sky in late July announced its fall original TV line-up. New comedy shows include Gates, script-edited by Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous); Starlings, executive produced by Steve Coogan; and Spy, starring Brit TV mainstay Robert Lindsay about a father and son who are both secret agents. Fall dramas include the return of Strike Back, the first co-production between Sky and HBO/Cinemax, and a new version of Treasure Island, starring Elijah Wood, Eddie Izzard and Donald Sutherland. Mad Dogs, Sky’s psychological thriller, returns for a second season in January. And Naveen Andrews (Lost) stars in Sinbad, Sky’s biggest original drama commission yet, due to air fall 2012.

These new Sky shows are part of the $951 million annual push into original TV production announced by Jeremy Darroch, CEO of BSkyB. In a TV economy in which cash from other broadcasters is drying up, Sky’s move into home-grown programming is a welcome UK boost. Until now, Sky has mainly relied on movies and sports to drive subscribers. and it has relied on U.S. shows such as The Simpsons, Lost and 24 to attract customers. This is about to change. Original drama hours will more than triple to 60 hours a week by 2014. Sky currently spends $619 million a year on original content. BSkyB has huge financial resources to support its programming ambitions. The company reported a 10% rise in revenue in the year-end to June 2011 to $10.7 billion. Enders Analysis, the London-based research house, predicts BSkyB’s revenues will rise to $13.2 billion in 2015, exceeding the combined revenues of rivals the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five. Sophie Turner-Laing, managing director of entertainment and news, tells me that Sky Studios will be at the heart of this programming push. “We so wanted to have entertainment produced on site,” she says.

BSkyB is not just making new shows for its Sky1 general entertainment channel. It is also developing bigger projects for its Sky Atlantic channel to sit alongside U.S. imports Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and Blue Bloods. Three U.S. networks, including at least one cable channel, are vying to buy Hit and Miss, Sky’s first original program for Sky Atlantic. Chloe Sevigny stars as a transsexual hit-woman in Hit and Miss, which is currently filming in Manchester. The show is executive produced by Paul Abbott, who wrote BBC drama State of Play.

Sky is pushing hard into original TV partly because it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract new subscribers. Sky has spent heavily on Hollywood movies and sports to reach its current 10.1 million customers. It wants to add entertainment to attract those who have resisted Sky so far. The move will allow Sky to appear better value to new and existing customers. And, in particular, attract more women, who aren’t so keen on premium sports and movies. Sam Chisholm, a previous Sky CEO, has described BSkyB’s lack of women customers as the “female handbrake” holding it back. Backed up by the $1.8 billion Sky spends on marketing each year – which includes subsidising all its set-top boxes — the broadcaster hopes to release the female handbrake.

David Elstein, former BSkyB director of programmes, says the broadcaster has reached the point where it has to show not just more but better programs as well. “It took HBO 20 years to reach that stage so BSkyB is on track,” he said. “There is a limit to what return you get from spending on sport, there is nothing more to be done on movies, there are no new channels to induce into the Sky package, technology investment has peaked. But Elstein remains bullish on its long-term prospects. ”BSkyB will see itself competing with HBO, AMC and Showtime in terms of drama and perhaps comedy, rather than the BBC and ITV.”

Meanwhile just completed is Sky Studios, the pay-TV behemoth’s new $379 million TV facility that opened in July. What a difference from two decades ago when Rupert Murdoch said his whole Sky TV enterprise was being launched on “a wing and a prayer. His News Corp would eventually craft a $14 billion bid for complete control that is now a very public failed deal. Read More »

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Fire Still Going At Sony DVD Plant Torched By London Rioters

By | Thursday August 11, 2011 @ 8:08am PDT

Sony says that fire crews are still at its wrecked DVD and CD factory in Enfield, north London. Smoke levels are preventing surveyors from getting in and assessing damage. Rioters broke in to the Sony DADC Distribution Centre on Monday night and set it ablaze. The studio, which handles physical DVD distribution for indie UK distributors and record companies, says that 25 million discs have been lost in the arson attack. Disney Games titles as well as Sony’s own discs have been hit by the blaze. Sony is remanufacturing 1.5 million discs that need to be shipped urgently from its manufacturing sites elsewhere in the UK and Austria. It is sending out more discs out direct from its UK manufacturing site to reduce shipping delays. And other home-entertainment distributors have also pitched in offering to help. Read More »

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U.S. Nets Vying For Sky’s ‘Hit And Miss’

By | Tuesday July 5, 2011 @ 6:02pm PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Three U.S. networks, including at least one cable channel, are in what BSkyB calls a bidding war for Hit and Miss, its first original drama for its Sky Atlantic channel. Hit and Miss, starring Chloe Sevigny as a pre-op … Read More »

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Chloe Sevigny To Star In British Series From Paul Abbott Which Eyes U.S. Distribution

By | Tuesday June 7, 2011 @ 3:56pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Big Love co-star Chloe Sevigny is segueing to a new series, this time on the other side of the Atlantic. Sevigny has signed on to topline Hit and Miss, a provocative new drama from Shameless creator Paul Abbott for new … Read More »

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ITV Planning Britain’s Next ‘Downton Abbey’

Andrew Davies, who wrote the script for The Three Musketeers and a slew of BBC period dramas, is adapting Lindy Woodhead’s nonfiction bestseller Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge for ITV Studios. I’m told that ITV hopes the story of how brash American retailer Harry Gordon Selfridge –”The Showman of Shopping” — opened the world’s first purpose-built department store in London in 1909 will repeat the success of Downton Abbey. That NBC Universal production has been a huge hit over here for ITV. Certainly there’s a plum role for the American actor playing Selfridge, who blew his fortune on mistresses and gambling before dying destitute. Selfridge’s girlfriends included famed dancer Isadora Duncan and Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. His massive overspending ultimately cost him control of Selfridges.

The second series of Downton Abbey, meanwhile, started shooting on location at Highclere stately home in Berkshire in March. Filming continues until July. PBS Masterpiece will premiere the second series on Jan. 8, 2012, following its ITV run starting this fall.

But that’s not the only bonnet-on-bonnet action coming your way on Masterpiece.

The second series of the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, a sequel to the original 1970s ITV show that chronicled the lives of the Edwardian Bellamy family, goes into production in September. The BBC originally announced its Upstairs Downstairs remake at the same time ITV unveiled Downton Abbey. “Upstairs Downstairs is elegantly entertaining but doesn’t reach the same heights as Downton Abbey,” sniffed the Daily Telegraph. Still, BBC1 controller Danny Cohen was pleased enough with the average 8.4 million viewers to commission another 6×60-minute series. There is no U.S. transmission date for Series 2 yet. Read More »

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