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 …
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.
Under the two-year agreement, Sky and FX Networks will co-fund and co-develop half-hour scripted comedy projects. If any of them are picked up to series, the shows would air on Sky1 HD or Sky Atlantic HD in the UK and Ireland and FX Networks channels in the US. “This partnership will open doors for us to discover new comedy talent and develop their stories in this unique foreign exchange program,” said FX president of original programming Eric Schrier. Home-grown Sky comedies that have previously been broadcast on U.S. networks include An Idiot Abroad, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Spy, Moone Boy and Doll & Em. Titles set to launch this year include Mr Sloane created by Bob Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and starring Nick Frost which debuts this spring, Charlie Brooker’s A Touch Of Cloth will return for a third chapter this summer and Matthew Perry stars in Jon Ronson’s The Dog Thrower.
Global Showbiz Briefs: BBC Worldwide’s ‘Musketeers’ Sold To Multiple Territories; Sky Developing ‘Diabolik’ Series; More
BBC Worldwide Sells Drama ‘The Musketeers’ To Multiple Territories
BBC Worldwide is gearing up for its annual showcase in Liverpool next week and ahead of it has announced sales of 10-part drama series The Musketeers. Set on the streets of 17th century Paris, the series is made by BBC Drama Productions and co-produced by BBC Worldwide and BBC America. The new take on the classic characters created by Alexandre Dumas stars Luke Pasqualino, Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles, Alexandra Dowling and Maimie McCoy. Adrian Hodges is executive producer and lead writer. The series launched on BBC One in the UK in January and has been renewed for a second season. Sales deals have been concluded with Germany (ARD), Norway (NRK), Sweden (TV4), Ukraine (1+1), Greece (OTE) and Turkey (NTV).
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.
Britain’s ITV is launching its first new channel in eight years. Pay channel ITV Encore will debut later in 2014 on Sky‘s platforms and will be dedicated to the best of the broadcaster’s British drama. ITV’s flagship station, ITV1, is home to Downton Abbey, Broadchurch and Mr Selfridge, among others. I understand the play for Encore is to air series like murder mystery Lucan and Brenda Blethyn detective show Vera, both of which are produced by ITV Studios. From 2015, ITV Encore will act as a further outlet for original British drama with high-end series to be commissioned for the channel with big talent attached, ITV promises. The channel bow is part of a wider four-year partnership with the 21st Century Fox-controlled pay-TV operator, Sky. Under that agreement, ITV content will be made available through Sky’s various range of connected platforms including Sky+HD, Sky Go, NOW TV and Sky Store. ITV CEO Adam Crozier, deep into a five-year transformation plan at the broadcaster which has reduced debt and resulted in several company acquisitions, said today, “A key part of our strategy is to become the most watched, most loved and most talked about family of free and pay channels for every household and every advertiser in the UK.”
Global Showbiz Briefs: Colombia Orders 60 Episodes Of ‘ER’; ‘Tbilisi, I Love You’ Hits Georgia Theaters In February; More
Colombia Paging ‘ER’ With 60-Episode Order
ER is going Latino. Warner Bros International Television Production today announced the first Latin American format deal for the seminal medical series. RCN, Fox International Channels and TC have commissioned a local-language version for Colombia with a 60-episode order. Colombia’s Resonant is producing for air this spring. Originally produced in the U.S. by Constant c Productions and Amblin Television in association with Warner Bros Television, the series premiered on NBC in 1994 and ran for 15 seasons. It is the most Emmy-nominated series in history with 124 and notably helped kickstart the careers of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies. “Even though ER is a fundamental American series, its characters and situations are so strong, moving and universal that will surely find a place in the hearts of Latin American audiences,” said Fernando Gaitan, RCN’s VP Content and Production. “We are eager to have it on our screen.”
‘Tbilisi, I Love You’ Opening Next Month In Georgia
Tbilisi, I Love You, part of Emmanuel Benbihy’s Cities Of Love franchise that started with Paris Je T’Aime and New York, I Love You, has set a February 20 release date in Georgia. The movie is a series of 10 short films that are written and directed by natives of Georgia and take on a personal narrative about the republic’s capital city. Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman both feature. McDowell’s vignette centers on an actor who reluctantly agrees to a one-month shoot in Tbilisi and develops a love affair with the city. Perlman’s short sees him as a nameless American motorcyclist who rides through Tbilisi’s remote areas with a woman named Freedom. Tbilisi, I Love You is produced by Storyman Pictures David and Nika Agiashvili. Credo Cinema’s Jason Speer, Ever So Close’s Benbihy, as well as Paata Trapaidze are exec producers. A festival schedule is being determined. In the meantime, here’s a trailer:
The follow-up to International Emmy and Peabody Award-winning comedy/talk show hybrid The Kumars At No. 42 will bring the Kumar clan back to television after a seven-year break. The new show, titled The Kumars, is a six-part series that will air on the UK’s Sky1 HD from January 15th. The original ran on the BBC for 53 episodes and was also broadcast on BBC America. There is no U.S. deal yet, but given the earlier show’s popularity and the caliber of guests, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it land Stateside. The original scripted and improvised show centered on three generations of a British Indian family. Sanjeev Bhaskar played the thirtysomething son whose parents support his dream of being a talk show host by building a TV studio onto the back of their home. Celebrity guests were greeted with fanfare at the family’s front door, sometimes making a pit-stop on the living room couch for nibbles (see video below), before being ushered into the TV studio for a chat with Bhaskar while his parents and grandmother offered inappropriate questions from the peanut gallery. The new series will kick off with Daniel Radcliffe, Chevy Chase and Broadchurch‘s Olivia Colman as guests. Returning cast include Bhaskar, Vincent Ibrahim and Meera Syal. But fortunes have shifted and the family now lives in a flat behind a homewares and gift shop that the father …
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.
Can this stunt help goose The Lone Ranger‘s lackluster box office? Disney and Britain’s Sky are partnering to film a live 3-minute TV ad for the movie featuring stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer at the July 21 UK premiere. The spot will be broadcast exclusively across 11 Sky channels starting at 5:56 PM that day. Calling it a “film industry first” the partners said Depp and Hammer will be interviewed by Sky Movies’ Alex Zane for the live promo. Fans are being asked to submit questions via Twitter to @skymovies using the hashtag #lonerangerpremiere by 12:00 on July 18. The Lone Ranger opened Stateside on July 3 earning about $49M over the 5-day 4th of July holiday. As of July 14, it had taken $119M worldwide in 34 territories. It hits the UK on August 9.
Former Battlestar Galactica star Jamie Bamber has landed the lead in Sky1 HD’s upcoming eight-part series, The Smoke. Bamber, who also stars in TNT’s David E. Kelley medical drama Monday Mornings, will play a firefighter in the drama about the lives of a crew in a London fire station. Rhashan Stone (Strike Back) has also been cast along with Pippa Bennett-Warner and Taron Egerton. Written by Lucy Kirkwood (Skins), the series hails from Shine’s Kudos Film and Television. Production is gearing up in London for air in early 2014. Law & Order UK and Broadchurch‘s Jane Featherstone is exec producing with The Hour‘s Noelle Morris for Kudos. Anne Mensah is exec producer for Sky; Mike Barker (Silent Witness) is directing; Chris Fry (Mayday) is producer. Bamber is repped by Alan Siegel Entertainment, Paradigm and Independent Talent.
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 named Adam MacDonald to oversee the channel. MacDonald joins from A+E Networks UK – a joint venture of A+E Networks and News Corp.-controlled BskyB – where he’s VP of programming. Former Sky 1 director Stuart Murphy has been bumped up to oversee Sky’s entertainment portfolio Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts, Challenge and Pick TV. Sky 1 was named Channel of the Year at the Broadcast Awards in 2012 and overall, Sky has commited £600M ($975M) for UK content and production across all of its channels by 2014. Among upcoming projects, Sky Atlantic is co-producing The Tunnel and biopic Fleming; Sky Arts has the Playhouse Presents series in the pipeline with talent that includes Anna Friel, Matt Smith, Idris Elba and Vanessa Redgrave and Sky Living is co-producing NBC series Dracula.
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 had a love affair and who some believe to be the original inspiration for the Bond Girl. Fleming, an Ecosse Films production for Sky Atlantic and BBC America, takes a no holds barred look at the 007 creator and his early life set against the permissive society of war-torn WWII London. Mat Whitecross is directing from a script by John Brownlow and Don MacPherson with shooting to start in Budapest next month. BBC Worldwide is distributing internationally. Wallis has also signed on for a part in Hello Carter, Anthony Wilcox’s upcoming UK indie that’s produced by Fiona Neilson of Fiesta Productions. The actress just wrapped BBC period series Peaky Blinders opposite Cillian Murphy. Her other credits include Pan AM, The Tudors and Snow White And The Huntsman. She’s repped by ICM Partners, United Agents and Untitled Entertainment.
Scandinavian format The Bridge is getting another adaptation, only this time it’s called The Tunnel. In what’s being billed as the first-ever bilingual broadcast series for the UK and France, Sky Atlantic HD and Canal Plus are co-producing the 10-part drama from Kudos Film and TV and Shine France Films in association with Filmlance. FX recently shot a pilot starring Demian Béchir and Diane Kruger for its own U.S. version of the Hans Rosenfeldt-created show which moved the action from the Danish-Swedish border to the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. For The Tunnel, Ben Richards (Spooks, Outcasts, Party Animals) will lead an Anglo-French writing team to shift the story to the area where the UK meets France. Set primarily in Folkestone and Calais, the series seees detectives Karl Roebuck and Elise Wassermann called to investigate the death of a French politician on behalf of their respective countries. When a shocking discovery is made at the crime scene, they are forced into an uneasy partnership as they seek out a politically-motivated serial killer who draws them into his own personal agenda. Production will begin later this month for broadcast later this year. Exec producers are Anne Mensah for Sky, Fabrice De La Patellière for Canal Plus, Jane Featherstone, Karen Wilson, Manda Levin …
Sky acquired the exclusive UK TV rights to NBC’s breakout drama Revolution from Warner Bros International Television Distribution. The deal is for three seasons, although Revolution only received its first full-season order from NBC in October. A Sky spokeswoman tells Deadline the pact gives Sky exclusive rights to the first season and for two future seasons, should they be commissioned in the U.S. Executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Revolution had its fall finale on NBC in November, ending the first half of its freshman season on a high note. It returns on March 25 after a four-month hiatus. Sky’s Sky1 HD channel will debut the first season on an as-yet unspecified date in the new year. The adventure thriller set in a post-apocalyptic America stars Tracy Spiridakos, Graham Rogers, Billy Burke, Giancarlo Esposito, David Lyons and JD Pardo. Along with Abrams, the show is exec produced by Bryan Burk and Eric Kripke. It’s produced by Bonanza Productions in association with Bad Robot, Kripke Enterprises and Warner Bros TV.
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.