This weekend marked the start of English Premier League soccer with fans on both sides of the pond in a football frenzy. In the U.S., NBC Sports Group kicked off its exclusive coverage on Saturday with three live matches: Liverpool v Stoke City and Arsenal v Aston Villa on NBCSN, followed by Swansea City v Manchester United on NBC. The latter face-off gave NBC a .8 overnight rating, the highest ever for a Premier League opening weekend match in the U.S. Combined, the three matches averaged a .5 in the overnights for a 67% increase over last year’s three openers on ESPN and Fox Soccer. On NBC Sports Live Extra, more than 4 million minutes of action was streamed. In the UK, BT has challenged dominant football broadcaster Sky by acquiring rights to 38 live matches. In its broadcast on Saturday of Liverpool v Stoke, BT Sport averaged 447,000 viewers for a 5.1% share and peaked with 764,000 and a 7.7% share. Later in the day on Sky Sports 1, Swansea v Manchester United was seen by a peak of 3.09M viewers for a 17.4% share. Across Sky Sports 1, Sky2 and Pick TV, the game averaged 2.11M for a 12.5% share.
Britain’s BT has pacted with Liberty Global-owned Virgin Media to offer its nascent BT Sport package on Virgin’s UK pay-TV service. The move comes just in time for the British Premier League soccer season which kicks off this weekend. The wholesale deal more than triples the number of BT Sport viewers, bringing the total to about 3M for the three channels (Virgin’s XL subscribers will get the channels for free and lower tier subscribers will be able to purchase them for £15.) Both BT and Virgin compete with Sky, the UK’s dominant pay player. However, Virgin also offers Sky’s channels meaning that following today’s BT pact, it becomes “the only place sports fans can enjoy every goal, try, penalty and heart-stopping sporting moment,” Virgin said in a statement. Sky, meanwhile, is giving Britain a “free day of football” on Saturday when it makes Sky Sports available to every UK household. As a rule, BT offers BT Sport 1, 2 and ESPN HD for free to its broadband customers.
BT has steadily increased its position in the sports rights arena, outbidding ESPN for 38 live Premier League matches for each of the next three seasons in a £738M deal in 2012. (It has since acquired ESPN’s UK & Ireland TV businesses.) At the same time, Sky is paying £2.3B over three years for 116 live matches. Other players have tried and failed to take on Sky in the sports game, but some media watchers say BT isn’t necessarily eyeing a challenge to its supremacy in that domain.
Former BBC Daytime controller Liam Keelan was originally named dirctor of BSkyB‘s flagship Sky 1 HD back in December, but he later pulled out to move to BBC Worldwide. After opening up the search again, Sky has now …
EXCLUSIVE: British actress Annabelle Wallis has been cast in Sky Atlantic and BBC America’s just-announced four-part biopic Fleming. Dominic Cooper is playing James Bond creator/author Ian Fleming with Wallis as Muriel Wright, a woman with whom Fleming …
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.”
The wide-ranging pact between Warner Bros and Sky announced today will see the two companies collaborate on distributing Warners’ movies across multiple platforms and boost releases and marketing in the UK and Ireland. The tie-up gives Sky’s Sky Movies channels subscription pay TV and PPV windows that will give its customers exclusive access to new Warner Bros releases about six months after their theatrical runs, and they’ll stay on Sky Movies exclusively for more than a year.
UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt To Be Ousted?
UPDATE: David Cameron has named Jeremy Hunt to the post of Health Secretary. Hunt told the BBC, “It’s a huge task. It’s the biggest privilege of my life. I’m incredibly honored.”
PREVIOUS: Jeremy Hunt may be on his way out as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle. Hunt fell under scrutiny a few months ago for what some considered a too-cozy relationship with the office of James Murdoch during News Corp.’s bid to acquire the whole of BSkyB. Hunt, whose official title is Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, expects to lose his post, sources tell The Guardian, although he recently oversaw what was considered a successful London Olympic Games. According to The Guardian, speculation is that he will make a lateral move to the Department for International Development. One name that’s popped up as a possible replacement should Hunt change jobs is Communications Minister Ed Vaizey.
Sky Revamps Acquisitions Team
Sky has promoted controller of acquisitions for Sky Entertainment, Sarah Wright, to controller of acquisitions for Sky, adding acquisitions for Sky Movies to her responsibilities. She replaces Simon Rexworthy, who will join Sky’s Strategy team from October. Wright was involved in the launch of Sky Atlantic and oversaw the acquisitions strategy for the re-launches of Sky Living and Sky Arts.
Following provisional findings in May, the UK’s Competition Commission has confirmed that News Corp-controlled Sky does not have a material advantage over its rivals in the first window pay-TV arena. Sky’s position in relation to the acquisition and distribution of movies in that window “does not adversely affect competition,” the org said. Sky has first-window rights to films from all of the Hollywood majors, but the Commission’s Laura Carstensen, who chaired the inquiry, said that is not what’s driving subscribers’ choice of pay-TV provider.
The findings come after UK regulator Ofcom charged the Commission to start a probe into premium pay-TV movie rights back in 2010. After the provisional findings were released in May there was blowback from rival providers including Virgin Media which disputed the Commission’s report. Today’s report coupled with the one in May represent a reversal of the Commission’s original stance in August of last year when it found that Sky’s deals with the Hollywood majors were anti-competitive.
In 2010, Britain’s Competition Commission began a probe into premium pay-TV movie rights at the urging of broadcast regulator Ofcom. At the time, Ofcom was concerned that the way Hollywood movies were sold and distributed “creates a situation in which Sky has the incentive and ability to distort competition.” Today’ provisional findings from the Commission’s Movies on Pay TV investigation are good news for the Rupert Murdoch-controlled group.
The regulatory body found Sky does not have a “material advantage over its rivals in the pay-TV retail market.” The Commission cited newcomers like Netflix and Lovefilm as providing an alternative for folks looking to access the latest movies at home.
Sky has rights to films from all of the Hollywood majors in the first pay-TV window while Lovefilm and Netflix have premium rights to films from Lionsgate, MGM and others. The Commission says it believes that as rival services increase their subscribers, the barriers to more first-window rights will fall. The commission further said it found that range of content and pricing are equally important to consumers as how recent the movies.
Sky today announced that its new internet TV service, offering access to Sky content on a wide range of broadband-connected devices, will be called NOW TV. The new brand was revealed this morning by Sky’s Chief Executive, Jeremy Darroch, as he delivered the opening keynote at the Media Guardian Changing Media Summit in London.
Launching later this year, NOW TV will provide instant access to some of Sky’s most popular content, including hundreds of films from Sky Movies. With a distinctive look and identity, it will stand out from the existing Sky TV service and offer even more choice and flexibility to customers.
Although the UK film policy review published Monday has been largely embraced by the local industry, ITV and Sky were put on the defensive when former culture secretary Lord Chris Smith commented that they “don’t put any support into British film really at all.” An ITV spokesman responded with a statement (see below) emphasizing ITV’s almost £1 billion annual investments in programming, the majority of which goes to original UK produced content. A Sky spokesperson pointed out that the group is investing more money in the UK’s creative economy than at any point in the company’s history. The policy review calls for all broadcasters to increase their investment in British film, but the sense is that companies are less than eager to see government get on the potentially slippery slope of mandating how they spend their pounds.
A panel of industry experts led by former culture secretary Lord Chris Smith published its highly anticipated recommendations on revamping UK government film policy today. The panel, which included Sony’s Michael Lynton, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and Optimum Releasing founder Will Clarke, made suggestions with the intent of increasing audience choice and growing the demand for British films both at home and abroad. With calls for regulated film investment from broadcasters like BSkyB and ITV, the review also seems to be taking a cue from its neighbors across the Channel on certain points. Within the 56 recommendations that aim to boost the British film brand are a handful of proposals that, if heeded, would make the UK business more closely resemble the French model.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron made headlines last week when he called for British filmmakers to make more “commercially successful pictures.” The remarks left the local industry in a bit of a huff, with director Ken Loach telling the BBC: “If you knew what was going to be successful before you made it then we’d all be millionaires.” (It’s worth noting that Loach’s last several films have been made with French backing). Despite Loach’s initial take on Cameron’s comments and as some industry folks I spoke to late last week suggested, the review that’s been released today is not quite so incendiary as the prime minister’s statements led people to believe. After Cameron’s quips, Fellowes last week said, “At the moment it’s being presented as if there’s a sort of polarity, you either support mainstream films or minority pictures. That isn’t what this is about at all. It’s about broadening the base, so that money goes into all kinds of films.” Supporting Fellowes’ comments, the report’s first recommendation is that major organizations must recognize that a key goal is to connect the widest possible audiences with the broadest and richest range of British films. In comments today, Lord Smith noted that between inward investment that’s helping to boost the local economy (think lavish Hollywood pics shooting in Britain) and a run of strong local films at the box offrice (The King’s Speech, The Inbetweeners Movie), British film is in a strong place. But, “we need to sustain that.” The report notes that although the average Briton watches over 80 films a year on big and small screens, UK indies made up only 5.5% of box office from 2001-2010.
UK Touts Film Tax Relief Results
Britain’s department of Revenue & Customs released figures today outlining the impact of the country’s production tax breaks. Since the scheme was introduced in January 2007, 760 films have been eligible for the tax relief with 650 films making £645 million worth of claims. Through the end of 2010, 585 films had received £570 million. The total production spend was £5 billion, 75% of it in the UK. Big-budget films had an average spend of £82.9 million. Films budgeted at under £20 million more frequently sought out the relief and were granted a total of £230 million versus £340 million for bigger-budget pics. Under the tax relief program, films with a core expenditure of £20 million or less can claim a 25% rebate on qualifying UK spend while pics with over £20 million in core expenditures can claim 20%. Films must either qualify as British or be an official co-production.
Jeremy Clarkson Strikes Again, Fry’s A Gentleman
The BBC has put an episode of Stephen Fry’s game show QI on the shelf following remarks made by Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson last week. The episode of the intellectual comedy quiz show, which Clarkson taped this past summer, was due to air tonight in the UK. But appearing on the BBC’s The One Show last week, Clarkson prompted outrage when he commented on the recent public workers strike in Britain, “I would have them taken outside and executed them in front of their families.” Clarkson apologized in due course, but he’s no stranger to this kind of controversy. Earlier this year Top Gear was criticized over comments about Mexicans which were perceived as racist. The Guardian has a compilation of Clarkson’s most famous flubs titled “Jeremy Clarkson: big mouth strikes again.” Meanwhile, I checked Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed to see if he’d made any comment about the network’s decision to shelve the show, but he’s been busy promoting the Sherlock Holmes sequel in which he plays Holmes’ brother Mycroft and which premiered last night in London. He did, however, point to a new poll in which Winston Churchill was voted the greatest British gentleman of the 20th century, followed by filmmaker Richard Attenborough and … Stephen Fry.
New Appointments At Sky, National Geographic
Phil Edgar Jones has been named head of entertainment for Sky. He will have oversight on the bouquet of channels that includes Sky 1, Sky Arts and Sky Living. He will also commission shows for Sky Movies and the recently launched Sky Atlantic which is airing a host of HBO shows. Edgar Jones was previously creative director of independent producer Running Bare and creative director of Remarkable Pictures where he exec produced Big Brother on Channel 4. In related news, Hamish Mykura has been named executive vice president and head of international content for National Geographic Channels International. The former head of documentaries for Channel 4 will also become the London head of global development for National Geographic Channel. Mykura will oversee editorial development and production for the company and will supervise NGCI’s networks NGC, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Adventure.