REVIEW: Sky unveiled its 2022 content lineup at its Up Next event and it got me wondering where the UK broadcaster sees itself in this ever-changing media landscape.
The event, as you’d expect, was rather glitzy to the point that I wondered if it was a mistake to invite myself, a newspaper-carrying hoodie/combat pants combo, to the event.
There was a parade of stars on stage discussing shows coming to Sky (or already available), and while that might border on self-congratulatory, what struck a chord was not the featured creatives but what happens behind the scenes.
It has been announced that 200 Sky Original shows will launch this year, 60% more than in 2021, while Sky has also moved into Elstree studios, stepping up its recruitment campaign with a view to connecting later in 2022. Sky says the 13 studios under the Elstree roof will allow £3 billion to be invested in production over the next five years. These numbers are important because they highlight the impact of streaming on production and the thirst for more content.
Original programming for television has seemingly never been more important, despite having been around since, well, the birth of television. The money media conglomerates are pouring into creating new shows — if you can really call it all new given the amount of revivals, remakes, and reimaginings — raises Roger Moore-esque eyebrows.
Netflix is estimated to spend $17 billion (or possibly less after its recent setbacks) this year. Disney is expected to spend $33 billion on its portfolio, while Warner Discovery will part with $20 billion. They mean business and the figures quoted show that there are a lot of risks. Disney has yet to make a profit on Disney+…
And the money these studios are putting in isn’t going to services they don’t own, which will affect Sky. I’d bet Warner/HBO’s US content is on slightly shaky ground with this deal ending in 2025. After its recent removal of shows on The CW Network, I’d expect Warner Discovery to lay its eggs in a HBO-shaped shopping cart and export Max service in the UK.
With BT Sport being eaten up by Discovery, becoming a huge rival to Sky Sports in the process, Liberty Media is likely to have another look at F1 when its deal expires in 2024. Sky could feel the heat.
It’s the result of licensed content – or the original “original” content – becoming a strategic play to attract viewers. Netflix suffered the most, having pulled Star Trek: Discovery from its grip to pave the way for the international launch of Paramount+, while in the US it saw Friends, The Big Bang Theory and The Office teleported to the mother ship(s). Sky wouldn’t want to be in that position.
And so Sky has to make hay while the sun shines with its current offerings, while putting its pieces in place for the future. It is no longer a broadcaster in the traditional sense, with many fingers in many pies, from content conception to airing. Although recent moves have seen them become a content aggregator on the Sky Q and Glass platforms, I don’t think they can rely – at least in the future – on others to funnel hits directly to them. like Game of Thrones and Succession. They need to make their own water cooler hits, like Gangs of London, and with US media giant Comcast behind them, they have the resources to do it.
But all this chatter brings me back to a point I raised in previous columns. Sky’s weapon in the streaming wars might be the Stream Puck, the most interesting aspect of Sky Glass. Creating content is one thing, how people enjoy it is another. With the increase in programming and the investment Sky is making; if the Stream puck is priced right, it could open up Sky’s growing library to a wider audience.
It always bothered me growing up that Sky could – in my eyes – “steal” characters like 24, Lost and Mad Men after a few seasons on terrestrial TV, disappearing behind a paywall. But now imagine having an affordable way to access Sky’s service and being able to watch it on any screen? This could see Sky navigate its way through these increasingly choppy waters of the streaming market.