Sarah Wright, director of Sky Cinema and acquisitions at Sky, talks to World Screen about upcoming shows, many of them Sky originals, as delivery of U.S. series has been delayed because of COVID-19, and the increase in viewing across Sky’s channels, including newly launched services.
For more than a decade, Sarah Wright has been finding TV shows and feature films from the U.S. and around the world that complement Sky’s rich content offering. She helped negotiate deals that extended Sky’s relationship with HBO and Showtime, and last year was also put in charge of acquisitions for Sky Cinema.
WS: Several of Sky’s channels and services offer imported shows. What types of imported shows are you looking for? In the past year, which acquisitions have performed well?
WRIGHT: The best of the U.S. and international is a fundamental part of what we offer to our customers, and they love our acquired shows. So whether that is a one-off passion project from a dedicated producer to show on Sky Arts, a massive Hollywood blockbuster movie for our Cinema channels or a brilliant new procedural detective show for Sky Living, we have a wide range to suit everyone. From brand-new shows such as The Undoing and Lovecraft Country to returning favorites like our superhero titles The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, via action-packed hours such as S.W.A.T. or NCIS: Los Angeles.
WS: Could you give some examples of how Sky curates content to serve its customers better?
WRIGHT: Our Sky Cinema service is a brilliant example of content curation. We have well over 1,000 movies on demand at any one time, and we add a new premiere every day to the service. Every single day! Plus, we have pop-up channels to showcase the films so our customers can find them more easily and some brilliant productions to delve deeper into areas of interest. For example, our Christmas show on musicals.
WS: There has been a halt in most productions and the cancellation of some major sports events. How have you been filling the gaps? Have you had a greater need for imported shows in order to fill time slots?
WRIGHT: I think we have been very lucky at Sky. We have a high number of original and acquired shows already scheduled—this year has been a bumper year for content. From the brilliant Gangs of London and Code 404 to the stellar Lovecraft Country, plus our very own original movie slate with titles like Four Kids and It, which customers really loved. That said, we are very pleased to be back in production.
WS: COVID-19 is impacting the release of feature films in theaters. Is this also impacting international buyers’ ability to acquire new movies? How important are movies in Sky’s total offerings?
WRIGHT: They’re hugely important. Our Sky Cinema service is an integral part of our business. It is inevitable that there will be a delay in some blockbusters hitting the small screen—TV is so interwoven with cinema windowing—but we have always been active in acquiring movies all year round. We have output deals with all of the major studios, great relationships with independent producers—we are very active buyers in this space—and we now have our very own slate of original films, of which I am hugely proud. Next year will see many more of the latter premiering on Sky Cinema, which is great.
WS: Without the L.A. Screenings or pilots from the studios, and given that the U.S. has still not resumed production in full, how have you been planning your upcoming TV season?
WRIGHT: We are fortunate to have a full schedule, both of acquired and commissioned shows—very much a mixed economy of returners and new shows already shot and delivered—so our customers will have a brilliant year of new content. However, we all hope that production can safely resume as soon as possible.
WS: Since the outbreak, have you noticed a difference in viewing patterns? Are viewers showing a preference for certain types of programs? Has viewing increased and, if so, on which of your channels and platforms?
WRIGHT: Viewing is up across all of our channels, including Sky Cinema. We have successfully launched Sky Documentaries, Sky Nature and Sky Cinema Animation during lockdown, and they’ve gotten off to a flying start. We are working hard to showcase the very best content, both in linear and on-demand, to fulfill our customers’ needs to watch whatever they want, when and wherever they want. We have certainly found that shared viewing is on the up; that’s where brilliant family films, like our upcoming new original movie Secret Garden, will come into their own as families sit down together. We will be working to bring more of those shared moments to our customers as we go into the new year.