Sky’s Lucy Murphy

Last February, the U.K. welcomed a new linear service to its children’s entertainment landscape: Sky Kids. Home to ad-free, 24-hour programming, the channel showcases Sky originals and franchise favorites. Lucy Murphy, director of kids’ content for the U.K. and Ireland, is responsible for Sky’s children’s programming across all platforms, which includes eight live partner channels, a library of over 10,000 on-demand episodes and the Sky Kids channel. A 30-year industry veteran who was recognized with the TV Kids Pioneer Award at the recent TV Kids Festival, Murphy tells TV Kids about what’s guiding the programming strategy across commissions and acquisitions.

TV KIDS: What led to the launch of the Sky Kids linear channel, and how has it been received over the last year?
MURPHY: We talk to our customers a lot, and before launching the channel, we had been speaking to parents who were telling us that as much as they love the flexibility of on-demand viewing for their children, they found linear channels for children important. Particularly, younger families enjoyed that with a linear channel, children come across new shows; they don’t binge-watch one particular show all the time. There’s variety; there are different genres they get exposed to. We thought that was interesting because so much data had been leading everybody to on-demand services—they’re great, and there is still room for linear channels.

TV KIDS: Tell us about the current channel partnerships and why this is a real value-add for the Sky brand.
MURPHY: We are so fortunate in the U.K. to have brilliant kids’ channels, all of which are on the Sky platform because we are an aggregator. There are great free-to-airs like CBeebies and Milkshake! through to pay-TV [channels] from Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery. We have eight pay channels as well as the free-to-airs. Those relationships are incredibly important because we want the very best of everything. That means the best international channels and the best British channels. Having looked at all of that, there’s also room for us to make some very targeted commissions and acquisitions at Sky Kids to complement what we get from our partners.

TV KIDS: What have you learned about what works best in a linear versus an on-demand environment, and how is that impacting your programming strategy? Are you using one to promote the other?
MURPHY: We certainly use the linear channel to introduce new shows. That’s a great example of where, in this age of a very crowded environment and “discoverability” being a buzzword that everybody is talking about, a linear channel gives you an opportunity to introduce a new show and create an appetite and a love for it that can then get translated into the on-demand environment. Linear also gives us an opportunity to create mood and energy, which you can’t really do on-demand in quite the same way. Our linear channel gives us the opportunity to follow the rhythm of a young child’s day. Early in the morning, when kids are waking up, you don’t want something that’s going to get them leaping around instantly; you want something quiet and rather beautiful that is going to get them into the day quietly. Then you bring all your big brands in before school. We also recognize that we have children of different ages available at different times of the day. We assume the bigger kids have gone off to school, so we can put on much younger-skewing programming during the middle of the day and think about what parents need at that moment. We’re constantly thinking about what families are doing and what kids are doing. How are they feeling at this moment in time? And what can we give them that is just perfect?

TV KIDS: How much are you commissioning, in general, in a given year?
MURPHY: We commission for ages 1 up to 10 years old. Sky Kids is for children 7 and under. There is an amount that we commission for on-demand only for the 6- to 10-year-old audiences. We’ve commissioned more than ever over the last couple of years, and we’re investing more than we have done before in U.K. content and creators. I’m really pleased to say that moving forward, we’re maintaining that investment. We’re committed to commissioning for a broad demographic and all the genres that fit into what children want to watch, whether that’s news and current affairs or animation or factual entertainment.

TV KIDS: How much acquired fare is being programmed across the platforms?
MURPHY: We don’t have a target or a quota for acquisitions; it changes year to year. We try to complement what we get from our pay partners. We look at where the gaps are so that we’re filling them in. Also, from any one year to the next, we never know what shows we need more of with second, third, fourth seasons, etc. So, we don’t have an actual number of hours per year that we take.

You also have to look at what’s repeating well because, yes, of course, you need lots of new shows to refresh the service, but you also have to look at those shows that kids are loving and think, OK, this repeats so well, let’s take that for extra [seasons]. We also look for huge global brands—all the brands that you would expect from a premium entertainment service. When acquiring or commissioning, you really hope you’re going to find those little gems. A couple we bought that have done really well for us were Beep and Mort, which came out of Australia, and Norman Picklestripes, a stop-motion series made in Manchester. Those little gems that are not known IP and are not big brands have blossomed and flourished.

TV KIDS: How are the Sky brands positioned to be competitive in the U.K. kids’ entertainment landscape?
MURPHY: To be competitive in today’s landscape—particularly in the U.K., where we have a cost-of-living crisis, and it’s the same in other parts of the world—we’re looking all the time at what’s going to add value for our customers, what’s going to make them feel good about paying for their subscription. A part of staying competitive is about that value, and part of it is about keeping one step ahead so that you stay current, relevant and, most importantly, loved. We want kids to absolutely love [the brand], and we want parents to trust it. We also need to be inclusive. That inclusivity point is getting more and more important globally, not just in the type of shows that we are commissioning but in the experience of watching. We were delighted that we could launch the Sky Kids linear channel with 100 percent of the shows subtitled. We’ve also put a lot into subtitled collections of on-demand content because we know that it helps with kids learning to read. We’re constantly fine-tuning and finding ways to make the experience of watching amazing and for parents to think, Wow, that’s a little added extra that we get from Sky.

This is a crowded market, and we want families and communities within our demographic to feel represented by the content that we’re commissioning or acquiring. It’s really important that kids feel it’s their channel and that they are represented in the content. Accessibility is also important. Diversity and inclusion are really important, and that’s been a real focus. We’ve commissioned what may at first seem quite niche propositions like BooSnoo! or Ready Eddie Go!, which we made for a wider audience but with a focus on the content and creativity for neurodiverse communities. What we’ve discovered, actually, is it’s not niche at all. We’re talking to active, vocal communities within the children’s landscape who are willing to engage with content, and it resonates with the wider audience as well.

TV KIDS: What are the greatest shifts that have changed the way you have to approach the content you bring to children and the way that content is delivered?
MURPHY: We all know that discoverability is absolutely key, and it’s top of mind for the industry. I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember a time before megabrands like PAW PatrolTeletubbiesPeppa Pig and Hey Duggee existed. Anything coming into the market now has all that competition because it’s not going away; all those beloved brands are going to stay. So, anything coming now has to add to that landscape and create something a little bit different.

Also, we’re thinking a lot about the robustness of brands to be able to carry through all the digital and real-life touchpoints that a family might have. I always say that the very best place for your show to end up is a drawing on the fridge in the kitchen. If your child has drawn, colored in and given you a picture of their favorite character, it means they love it. And if whoever is looking after that child then hangs it on the fridge, that means they also like it and have invited it into their home. We’re always really aiming for that; we’re aiming for the fridge. All of the franchise planning, which used to be pretty much TV and then consumer products, is much more elaborate now, and producers are getting brilliant at doing all of that. It’s definitely something that we think about when we’re commissioning.

The last point is that we need to ensure that the content we’re delivering stands out and provides an opportunity—whether that is a child just wants to be entertained, they want the funnies, they want to learn something or get up and dance. Whatever the need state is that they’re experiencing at that moment in time, we must have something that fits it.

TV KIDS: What are the bright spots that keep you energized and excited about the work you do?
MURPHY: The audience always inspires and motivates us. It starts with children and understanding the place and the environment that kids now live in and all the different calls upon their time; we have to be worthy of that. We have to make sure that we’re creating for them. The very best content is not just made for kids; it’s made with kids. For example, when we make our news show, we have children under 16 as the presenters because they get their audience and understand the things that matter. So, it makes a show that’s fresh, relevant and exciting.

Also, the creativity of this industry gets me out of bed every morning. When you see something that is just so beautiful, so heartfelt or so original, and you think, Oh, I haven’t seen that before! You always open an email with a “What am I going to find?” and that’s really important.

The way that tech is constantly leading us into new places is really exciting. Everybody’s been excited about the new LEGO-Fortnite relationship. We’ve been having a lot of fun with a new bit of tech called Sky Live, which is a camera that sits on top of the TV and allows for really immersive, interactive, gesture-based gameplay. When you see the joy and delight on a child’s face when they’re doing that, that’s out of this world and makes it so worthwhile.