Will Sky Exploit Free-to-Air Frustrations With New Channel?

On the eve of Sky TV unveiling its plans for two new HD channels, viewer interest in the possibility of one being an HBO-style channel is growing.

It’s obvious that viewer frustration with free-to-air networks shunning, dumping or delaying premium drama is biting deep.

This is reflected in comments left not only on this site about shows like Justified being yanked and rescheduled late-night (it resumes 11 o’clock tonight on TV One, in SD) but also on Stuff’s On the Box blog and The Press’ website following an article I wrote about the likelihood of Sky dedicating a channel to such fare.

“I would buy that channel in a heartbeat,” says one while an unabashedly anti-Sky contributor says he even would be willing to subscribe to Sky on a limited basis if such a channel was offered.

Another reckons it would be a good move by Sky but only if the shows aired near their US broadcasts: “I cannot handle waiting six weeks for a series to start in NZ. Also play shows that TVNZ and MediaWorks have picked up but play them earlier. This is so exciting.”

Of course, it will be doubly-disappointing if Sky doesn’t use this opportunity to reward subscribers, and sign up new converts, with an HBO-driven channel.

The timing couldn’t be better for the satcaster: TV One and TV3 are largely ditching top-flight drama for procedurals and reality shows, even Four is no longer willing to jeopardise ad revenue by scheduling Breaking Bad in peak hour, and tomorrow new copyright laws take effect to thwart illegal downloads.

But so long as TV operators in this country continue to deny viewers timely access to sophisticated shows like Justified, Game of Thrones, Treme, The Killing and Breaking Bad, people will keep searching them out on the Internet.

And if the networks and Sky aren’t careful, occasional forays to satisfy cravings for top-shelf content will quickly become habitual – which is something neither free-to-air nor pay-TV operators should be prepared to risk as the likes of Google TV emerge as the viewing model of the future.

Take TVNZ – it sat on The Walking Dead, which ends its high-rating run tonight (TV2, 9.30), for nigh on a year.

But at least it took a punt on the series working when its rivals were dismissive of its prospects.

So, having proved the sceptics wrong, wouldn’t you think programmers would want to put season two, which is being rolled out worldwide from mid-October, to air as soon as possible?

Instead, they’re saving it to help anchor the network’s new-season launch early next year – but by then the show’s biggest fans already will have viewed it online, along with increasingly more shows that hitherto aren’t on air here or won’t be for months or years to come.

Sky, to its credit, was one of the first broadcasters in the world to screen HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and it does carry series like Dexter on The Box and True Blood on Prime only weeks after their US transmissions.

But it needs to offer such series in HD, too.

And if it’s not prepared to upgrade Prime to HD, it should use one of its new HD channels to screen Dexter and True Blood first, then roll them out to its SD channels — as it did with Boardwalk Empire, which premiered on Sky Movies, then had free-to-air exposure a couple of months later on Prime.

Alas, it’s just as likely that Sky won’t use either of its new HD channels for a NZ version of BSkyB’s Sky Atlantic but instead is acquiring series like Game of Thrones, The Killing and Treme for a flagship drama slot on Sky Movies (or, even worse, The Box).

That would be an improvement of sorts but wouldn’t begin to capitalise on the discontent that Sky could exploit to its advantage with a channel dedicated to scripted television at its best.

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2 Responses to “Will Sky Exploit Free-to-Air Frustrations With New Channel?”

  1. I seem to remember back in the early 1990s Sky had a HBO channel which was mainly for movies and later a Hallmark channel for the type of programming above but after an initial good start the endless repeats and old programming killed it off. Would I pay $60/month for this? Only if they do sci-fi stuff as well.

  2. Yes, Sky indeed had a channel named HBO in the ’90s. It was later renamed Sky Movies – so it was nothing like the HBO this article is proposing.

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