Sky Vision’s Jane Millichip Shares Drama Strategy


Jane Millichip, the managing director of Sky Vision, tells World Screen about the company’s approach to drama and its enduring commitment to factual and formats, as well as shares her perspective on the complexities of windowing today.

When Sky Vision was launched in 2012 following Sky’s acquisition of Parthenon Media Group, the distribution outfit was still largely known for its factual catalog. In the years since, under the leadership of Millichip, Sky Vision has emerged as a major player in the premium-drama space. As its parent company has ramped up its scripted investments, Sky Vision has become a key part of the financing puzzle, bringing on co-pro partners and selling high-end shows like Riviera and Fortitude across the globe.

WS: Drama has been a major focus for Sky Vision over the last few years. Tell us about your scripted strategy.
MILLICHIP: Drama wasn’t a part of Parthenon, the company that preceded Sky Vision. So we’re a relatively new business in terms of drama. But we have embraced it fully. Our first priority was to set up a successful international strategy for the Sky commissioned dramas. That has been ramped up considerably, both from a broadcast and distribution perspective. Fortitude, at the time the biggest show we’d ever launched, has run to two very successful seasons. At MIPTV we launched Riviera, which was the World Premiere TV Screening. Archery Pictures produced the show. Riviera brought back a style of glamorous drama that has been lacking in the international market in recent years. As a thriller it doesn’t pull its punches, but it is also unashamedly glamorous. It was important to us that we filmed on the Riviera, rather than in a lookalike location. It’s done well internationally, but it struck a particular chord with European broadcasters. It also marks our first co-production with Altice in France, a relationship we intend to foster.

At MIPCOM we will be launching Britannia—also a World Premiere TV Screening—produced by Vertigo Films and Neal Street Productions. It’s an epic tale of Celts and Druids in Roman Britain. The color palette and the scale will surprise people. It’s a fantastic cinematic experience that once again sets a new bar.

There’s also Tin Star, the brilliant Tim Roth-fronted drama that we co-distribute with Endemol Shine Group. We have high expectations for Tin Star. It’s got great provenance—Kudos is a brilliant production company—and it’s a modern take on a Western.

We don’t have the biggest slate in the market, but all Sky Vision dramas feel handpicked, and the portfolio is very much curated. The Sky dramas have a real premium pay feel that is attuned to the U.S. What you expect of U.K. drama in terrestrial is shorter runs, a single writer, a very British style. In the six years we’ve been in the drama market, we’ve introduced a new style of British drama that is much more akin to the premium pay American market. No subject matter is out of bounds for us. We can do period, we can do contemporary; what binds all of these shows is the look, feel and tone of them, and the quality.

In the last year we’ve been more active with our third-party slate (i.e., the dramas not commissioned by Sky). We’ve launched two seasons of the successful Netflix sci-fi drama Travelers, produced by Peacock Alley; and a brilliant Mafia piece, Bad Blood, from New Metric Media in Canada. At MIPCOM we will be launching Fighting Season from Goalpost Pictures in Australia.

And we’re also now engaging in our first slate of non-English-language dramas, which we’re really excited about. There’s a real market for this at the moment. La Peste is Telefónica’s biggest drama investment to date. It’s a period thriller set against the backdrop of the plague in 16th-century Seville. It’s a great thriller, but it also has a really rich visual texture to it. From our own Sky Deutschland we have Acht Tage (Eight Days), an eight-part end-of-the-world family saga.

Comedy can be tougher to sell internationally, but it’s an area that is very important to us, not least because of the importance to Sky 1 and Sky Arts.

WS: How much more complicated is it to come up with a windowing strategy for each title today?
MILLICHIP: It’s ever more complicated. And I don’t believe in precedents anymore. The world is changing on an almost daily basis. I’m a perpetual negotiator. You have to be adaptable in this marketplace, where commercial deal structures are driven by technological advances, and we just have to keep pace. One of the challenges for all content producers and distributors in the coming years will be the fact that there has been a fragmentation of platforms, so there appear to be more buyers than ever, but more of those buyers need more rights than ever. Whereas you could do quite complex windowing previously, more of our buyers now are asking for a broader package of rights. Sometimes they don’t need to use them but they’re trying to hold the exclusivity against their competition. And we’re seeing a blurring of lines between the traditional OTT players and linear. So more of the buyers need more of the rights, and that’s a challenge for a content creator and licensor. And we just need to keep adapting, keep talking to our buyers. Ultimately, the one thing that allows me to sleep at night is that I know the world will always need good storytelling. And if you work with good storytellers, you’re halfway there. If you stay nimble then you’ve got a much better chance of dealing with the challenges.

WS: What trends are you seeing in your factual business?
MILLICHIP: We are always keen to secure a sufficient [supply] of what we would call evergreen genres—big history, big science, natural history. There’s an appetite for factual entertainment, lifestyle, upbeat formats. The factual market has had a challenging time, spurred by the downturn in the character-driven docs from the States. There was a glut of them and oversupply killed that market for a while. It led to a period of risk-averse commissioning. If the commissioning is sufficiently risk-averse, then the ideas get smaller. But I think we’re digging our way out of that now.

At MIPCOM we’re launching some returning series as well as some new shows. Be Your Own Doctor is from Love Productions and is in an area that we’re quite keen on seeing more of—quasi-medical-health fact-ent shows. One of the series that we’re pleased to say is coming back is The Wine Show, from Infinity Creative Media. Years ago there was no way that a producer and distributor would feel brave enough to deficit fund a series in factual without a broadcast commission. The producers at Infinity have a really interesting business model where they are deficit funding with the help of Sky Vision, but they are very much building brands. That is resonating with broadcasters. I think we might be seeing more of that kind of television that is financed outside of a normal broadcast route. Natural history still does very well for us. We’re launching Savage Kingdom from Icon Films. Six episodes, produced alongside the Natural History Film Unit Botswana, hosted by Charles Dance, shot in 4K, which it needs to be if it’s natural history nowadays.

WS: How important are format sales?
MILLICHIP: Formats are more and more important to us. We recently announced our biggest entertainment show to date, Revolution, which is produced by our own company, Znak & Co.—Sky Vision has invested in the production company with Natalka Znak. That is going onto Sky 1. It’s co-produced with GroupM. That will be our biggest format launch to date.

WS: In a crowded distribution landscape, to what do you attribute Sky Vision’s success?
MILLICHIP: When I joined, our revenue was just under £10 million, and we’re over £130 million now, in six years. That includes the production revenues we generate from our production company investments. We’ve seen massive growth in distribution this year, which is really satisfying, since it is all organic growth, as opposed to acquired revenue from corporate investments. So yes, we’ve gone from a minnow to a moderately-sized business in six short years. Bespoke scale is what you’ll get from Sky Vision. We have no interest in having a catalog that looks like a telephone directory. What we invest in is big and we’re serious, but if we want to take on a single doc we will do it if we feel it’s right for us. Because we don’t have a glut of programs in the catalog, every program gets the oxygen of publicity. We specialize in giving both producers and broadcasters a tailored service with scale, ambition and style in the shows we handle.