Tag Archives: Sky Living

BBC4 beats language barrier

The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén
The Bridge performs strongly on BBC4

This week, the BBC formally approved the closure of its youth-oriented television channel BBC3. Despite plenty of protest, the channel will move online from March 2016 as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

As yet, no one really has a clue what that will mean for the 925,000 viewers who tune in to the channel. The best guess is that many of them will be lost to the corporation for good.

The closure now raises questions over the future of BBC4 as a TV service. Although the BBC has not yet threatened to take the axe to the channel, neither has it guaranteed its future. If the BBC is faced with further cuts (likely under the current Conservative government), BBC4 could suffer the same fate as BBC3.

If that happens, it will be a blow to fans of non-English language drama. Over the past few years, BBC4 has played a pivotal role in introducing such shows to the international market. This week, for example, it has started airing season three of acclaimed Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge, showing the first two episodes as a double-header.

Picking up where season two left off, The Bridge attracted an audience of 1.2 million for episode one and 925,000 for episode two. The first of these two figures is a record for the channel, beating the 1.1 million who tuned into the second to last episode of the previous season.

While The Bridge is an exceptionally strong performer, BBC4 has had repeated success with non-English-language scripted series. Another Scandi show that has been airing in recent weeks is Arne Dahl, which has been picking up audiences of 600,000 to 700,000 consistently on Saturday evenings. Prior to that came Beck, a series of feature-length TV films based on the novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Again, ratings were in the region of 600,000 to 650,000.

asdasd
Arne Dahl is also doing well on BBC4

And while Danish period drama 1864 didn’t manage to hold its audience as well as some of the contemporary Scandi shows (954,000, 687,000, 530,000, 495,000 over four consecutive episodes), this still rates as a decent performance compared with the channel average.

It also attracted good reviews, with The Telegraph saying 1864 “oozed ambition, quality and an epic, cinematic scope. The latest offering from DR, the powerhouse Danish broadcaster that brought us Borgen and The Killing, has taken a key moment in their nation’s history and made it as compelling as any noir drama.”

Although Scandi shows are BBC4’s hottest property, the channel has also shown that people who are willing to watch foreign drama are not overly fussy about where it comes from. Over spring and summer, Italian detective drama The Young Montalbano regularly attracted between 600,000 and 700,000 despite having to contend with lower audiences in the warmer months (it’s noticeable actually that the show dropped a bit in June/July).

Prior to that, the year opened with a storming performance from French drama Spiral (a winner at this week’s International Emmys). Having kicked off with an audience over just over one million, the show stayed rock steady throughout January and February – bringing in audiences of around 850,000 to 900,000.

So what would happen to this kind of drama if BBC4 did disappear at some point in the next couple of years? Well, it would take away an important high-profile platform for such shows. But the truth is the channel has done its job so well that non-English-language drama would probably still find other homes.

1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics
1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics

Platforms like Netflix and Channel 4-backed Walter Presents are both buyers of such shows. And it’s even possible that BBC4 sister channel BBC2 might decide Scandi drama is worth investing in. In the meantime, though, expect The Bridge to keep doing well on BBC4.

Still in the UK, this week saw BBC1 launch Capital, a three-part drama from Kudos that stars Toby Jones. Jones, who is one of the stars of the upcoming Dad’s Army movie, helped the show to 3.8 million, which is OK but not spectacular. Scheduling didn’t help, with Capital up against ITV’s entertainment juggernaut I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. So it will be interesting to see if the show picks up significantly in terms of time-shifted viewing.

The issue of how we judge the success or failure of a drama is an ongoing debate these days. At Fox in the US, for example, senior management recently decided they will no longer have anything to do with Live + Same Day ratings.

“We will not acknowledge them for any programming other than live events,” said joint chairmen/CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman. Instead, the emphasis will be on Live+3, Live+7 and multi-platform data – all of which provide a more holistic view of the audience.

Fox’s decision is understandable and follows the lead of many cable channels. In essence, it allows a measured judgement once all of the time-shifted/non-standard viewing data has come in. Still, it would be a mistake to regard Live + Same Day as irrelevant to the ratings discourse. In the same way that the movie industry places so much emphasis on opening-weekend box-office figures, Live + Same Day figures provide a valuable insight into whether a TV network has got its pre-launch publicity right, and whether it has found an editorial formula that excites the audience.

Toby Jones in BBC1's Capital
Toby Jones in BBC1’s Capital

It’s also a guide to whether a show has been scheduled correctly. There is a risk, for example, in putting an expensive drama up against a show that demands live viewing – such as Capital vs I’m a Celebrity.

If viewers don’t come to a drama on its opening night, it might mean they’re saving it up for a special moment. But it might also mean that it is regarded as back-up viewing, a second-best alternative. Or it might mean there is a schism within the family – the men want to watch but the women or children don’t, for example.

You could argue that none of this matters as long as word of mouth supports the show and the audience comes to it eventually. But any good sales executive will tell you to try to clinch the sale straightaway rather than let the punter go away and think about it.

In my house, many dramas get saved for later and then deleted or forgotten about. Any delay in viewing means a window is opened up to non-viewing or viewing via piracy or via SVoD, both of which change the economic return on a show.

On the subject of how we should assess ratings, the opening episode of Sky Atlantic’s six-part heist drama The Last Panthers saw its UK audience rise from 228,000 to 696,000 once non-live figures were added in. But episode two’s live numbers dropped to 112,000.

NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot
NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot

This is a classic example of the mixed messages broadcasters have to deal with these days, though with an IMDb rating of 7.2 the message seems to be that the show hasn’t quite captured the audience’s imagination as yet. By about episode four, however, we should have a clearer picture of whether the show has gained enough support to merit a renewal.

Elsewhere in the Sky family of channels, US drama Blindspot debuted on Sky Living with an audience of 383,000, a healthy start. In the US, the show is the top-rated new series of the season and has been renewed for a second run by NBC. As such, it should settle in nicely on Sky Living and do a good job for at least a couple of seasons.

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Enfield Haunting producer Eleven promises more scares

UK producer Eleven Film is building on the scares in The Enfield Haunting by plotting new true horror stories to bring to television. Michael Pickard reports.

Viewers yet to re-emerge from behind the sofa after watching Sky Living’s three-part drama The Enfield Haunting (pictured above) might want to make themselves comfortable – television could be about to get much scarier.

Eleven Film's Jamie Campbell
Eleven Film’s Jamie Campbell

The Enfield Haunting, which aired in May this year, dramatised events purported to have taken place at a house in Enfield, north London, in 1977. Based on Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, it starred Timothy Spall as a paranormal researcher who is drawn to the house after disturbing reports of a desperate family terrorised by unseen malevolent forces.

The miniseries, which recalls the most documented account of poltergeist activity in British history, also starred Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen. It was directed by Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing) and written by Joshua St Johnston.

But beyond the spooky events replayed on screen, the series represents a change in attitude for its producer Eleven Film.

Known for its work across comedy, drama and factual, Eleven is using The Enfield Haunting as a platform to investigate more true horror and true crime stories and bring them to television.

Campbell, who co-founded Eleven with Joel Wilson, says: “Our background was making documentaries and, before that, working together on comedy sketches. We were lucky enough to make a documentary for Channel 4 in 2000, but since that time we’ve been interested in finding ways into different genres.

“There’s a presumption that if you’re strong in one genre, diversifying is not the thing to do. But we’re curious about all genres and we like working in all of them. Across our developments we’ve probably got a dozen or so dramas across different broadcasters, mostly in the UK and one with (US network) Fox about a teenage Jesus of Nazareth. We have fewer comedy developments and some documentary developments. Drama is our biggest department by some distance.”

The Enfield haunting is based on the claims of poltergeist activity at a north London house
The Enfield Haunting is based on the claims of poltergeist activity at a north London house

Within drama, Eleven hopes to carve out a niche on the back of the success of The Enfield Haunting by developing a number of stories based on true horror.

“There’s an overlap between true horror and true crime, which is interesting to us,” Campbell says. “So we’ve been developing heavily in that and we hope we’ll become a specialist in the UK, if not the world, in that quite tight genre of true horror where it overlaps with true crime.

“We’ve begun to pitch to broadcasters in that space, not just in factual but also in drama. All the broadcasters are interested in finding a way of telling factual in a credible and exciting way in drama in some form, and we think we’re well equipped to get that product into the marketplace. We have a keen sense of what works in factual and we know how to make high-end drama. That’s something we’re focusing on.”

As a result, Eleven has been putting hours into researching stories from the UK and around the world that fit this billing, though Campbell admits it hasn’t thrown up as many possible plots as you might imagine.

“I wouldn’t say there are loads of stories out there,” he says. “We’ve put in a substantial amount of research in the last six months and finding stories that are best told in the horror genre and that you can fundamentally say are based on true events is not a straightforward task.

“You have to find something that’s exciting and unusual in some way – something that you can structure in the genre with compelling horror genre beats that will make sense in synthesis with the story. A lot of the time you look at a story and think maybe it would be good to tell in horror, but actually it’s much better to tell as a true crime story as a documentary. We’re looking at them internationally, not just in the UK. We’ve found a lot of the best of (these stories). There aren’t thousands of them, probably hundreds.”

Eleven wants to use The Enfield Haunting as a platform for more 'true horror' stories
Eleven wants to use The Enfield Haunting as a platform for more ‘true horror’ stories

The notion that the television industry is currently enjoying a ‘golden age’ is not a new concept, but it’s one that Campbell believes has largely been confined to the US – until now.

“The golden age of drama is quite a specific idea and it really, if we’re honest, applies to America first and foremost,” he says. “But the UK is on the cusp of a golden age of drama. The scale and ambition of some shows going into production at the moment is very exciting.

“I remember (former BBC drama commissioner) Ben Stephenson five years ago saying Britain was producing world-class drama, and I thought that was pretentious at the time. But I think it required people like him creating ambitious shows over the last five years to push the industry into a place where, in the last couple of years, material really is, and has the potential to be, world class. That really does excite me.

“We’re working in the world’s most exciting marketplace for drama and some of our projects could be up there. Hopefully they will be. We’re developing on a bigger scale in the true horror space and we’re really excited about some of the stories we’ve found. If you loved Enfield, hopefully you’ll love what we do next.”

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Daring to be different

Sky Drama senior commissioning editor Cameron Roach says the satcaster needs to provide content different to that of its terrestrial rivals, rather than try to compete, and is eyeing crime, relationship series and coproductions to meet the challenge.

The four broad entertainment channels headlining the subscription offer from UK satcaster Sky have become home to some of the country’s most talked-about drama series of late.

Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire on Sky Atlantic, Scandal and Elementary on Sky Living – the hits are stacking up. The problem is, they’re mostly acquired from the US.

Under the guidance of entertainment channels director Stuart Murphy, Sky has committed to spending £600m a year on original content. It has already coproduced The Tunnel, an Anglo-French remake of the Swedish-Danish noir The Bridge, with Canal+ and Penny Dreadful with Showtime in the US.

Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire

Solo, it has commissioned shows such as The Smoke and Charlie Brooker’s crime spoof A Touch of Cloth for Sky1, while medical drama Critical is in the works.

But it’s with these originals, often critically acclaimed, that Sky is struggling to cut through against the terrestrials – and senior commissioning editor Cameron Roach believes the broadcaster has to change tack and offer an alternative to BBC, ITV and Channel 4, rather than trying to compete with them directly.

“The Tunnel was an impeccable piece announcing our ambitions for Sky Atlantic, taking an existing brand and doing something different,” Roach says, pointing to the two International Emmy nominations the series received.

“We need to show our subscribers we are offering them fantastic drama on our channels. Unfortunately, some of the subscribers are still unaware we create original content in drama, and the offering from BBC and ITV is so brilliant that we need to see ourselves not as competition, but as complementing what is there. That’s the mission statement.

“What we need to work hard on for the Sky brand is people knowing that it’s ‘Sky drama’ and attributing it to a channel. Too often when we have a successful show, people attribute it elsewhere because they don’t think we make shows.”

To that end, Sky is looking for its own take on the crime genre following the unrivalled success of ITV’s Broadchurch, while also aiming to take advantage of market gaps left by the sudden rush towards crime commissions.

“We know our audience loves crime. It’s done brilliantly on BBC1 and ITV – how can we do it differently? It’s no good for us to just do another crime show when crime is so available to the terrestrial audience,” Roach says.

“Crime has been so prevalent that the relationship shows have been forgotten, and that’s a really interesting thing. Ten years ago there were significant relationship shows on the terrestrials and that’s not happening now. That feels like an opportunity to me.”

Roach knows all about the challenges posed by the terrestrial channels, having been part of ITV2’s launch team and a producer on long-running ITV prison drama Bad Girls. He also worked on BBC’s smash hit Life on Mars while at Kudos Productions, as well as the corporation’s Waterloo Road series. He joined Sky’s drama department as a senior commissioning editor in 2013.

Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful

He believes it’s important producers start thinking about new places to uncover writing talent. In this vein, Sky is working with online drama producer PurpleGeko to produce a TV version of its Venus vs Mars drama, two seasons of which have aired online. Roach hopes to create a UK version of the HBO hit Girls with the show, and says the online world is an untapped resource in the drama space.

“The message to the production community is ‘seek more diverse talent.’ It’s an industry responsibility – it’s not about me and (drama head) Anne Mensah ticking diversity boxes. If you look at the hits YouTube channels are getting, it’s phenomenal. Producers can be too narrow. The top writers are so oversubscribed – we need ideas to come from other areas as well. We’re always excited when producers have different ways into subject matters.”

Sky, more than any other broadcaster in the UK, is known for its On Demand and catch-up services either through the Sky Plus DVR recorder or Sky Player online. Roach says viewers tend to watch Sky1 as a linear channel, while the series on Sky Atlantic are more binge-viewed as box sets – but he’s still sure Sky can create “event television” like the Broadchurch finale and is eyeing a Sky Living commission starring Timothy Spall – The Enfield Haunting – as a test case.

“I’m excited by how Line of Duty became an event for BBC2 and the Broadchurch finale became an event for ITV,” he says. “It shows we can have that emotional investment from the audience. We’d be naive to think it’s just in the on-demand space.

“When The Enfield Haunting happens as a three-parter on Sky Living in May, we’re looking at how we can use social media to make it an event. People will want to watch that live.”

Sky’s drama team is working hard on clear branding and distinct direction for the four channels under its control – Sky1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living and Sky Arts.

Controller Adam MacDonald has spoken about Sky1 being more “life affirming,” coining “enjoy the ride” as a mission statement. “It can go to dark, difficult places like The Smoke and Critical, but ultimately the lead characters are heroic,” says Roach.

“Pushing forward, we want a place that has more humour and comedy within content. We will do emotional, challenging pieces but we will enjoy the ride a bit more.”

Sky Living remains female-skewing but has undergone a rebrand, with its pink colour scheme swapped for a silver look to help change audience perception.

Sky Atlantic, which recently came under the control of former BBC3 controller Zai Bennett, premiered Fortitude January and was previously the home of The Tunnel and Penny Dreadful. It’s also where Sky’s HBO acquisitions sit.

“We want to be ambitious with our pieces there,” Roach says. “We want them to be talk-about TV. We want the Sky subscriber to have absolute value in that channel.”

Sky Arts, meanwhile, is viewed as “more of a playground.” Roach explains: “We’re saying to the creative community ‘we enjoy working with you, come and have a play and we’ll see what happens.’”

The Tunnel
The Tunnel

While The Tunnel and Penny Dreadful have been successful, headline-grabbing coproductions, Roach says Sky thinks very carefully about when and where to get involved in such arrangements, preferring to fully fund where possible.

“What we like to do is fully fund our developments, working closely with indies in the UK, Europe, the US or Australia,” he says. “We want to work with creative teams to understand the idea, take it to a pilot script stage before we start talking to too many partners. What’s important to us is a singular vision that makes drama stand out; involving too many partners early on can harm that.

“Another track we can take is where partner broadcasters have developed pieces and we see an absolute appeal for our subscribers within them – with Dracula and Penny Dreadful, they were Showtime shows and we were minority partners. Penny Dreadful had a largely British cast, it was shot in Dublin and it was set in London. For our subscriber it felt like their show, not an acquisition, and therefore it’s a relevant coproduction for us.

“Those are the questions we’ll always ask when a coproduction opportunity comes to us. Is it right? Can we claim ownership in the UK and Ireland? If we can, we’re likely to go for it. If we can’t but we like the content, we’ll work closely with our acquisitions team and advise them of our enthusiasm for it.”

Sky will be hoping its slight change of strategy, and considerable ongoing investment, can bring it results throughout the rest of the year.

With Sky’s merger with Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia, creating a pan-European pay TV brand, now completed – producing a commissioner on a colossal scale – this could be a formidable drama player in years to come.

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