SoHo: The First 100 Days (or So)

The wretched state of what’s on not only free-to-air TV but also much of Sky TV is reflected in the extraordinary uptake of the satcaster’s new premium HD drama channel, SoHo.

More than 50,000 subscribers have opted to pay $10 more a month to receive SoHo in the three months since its launch.

And according to Sky’s interim financial report for the six months ending December 2011, 49,753 of these were on the books by December 31 — “a result which is well in excess of Sky’s expectations,” chief executive John Fellet says in his overview.

“Subscribers tell us they love this channel.”

But it’s not clear how many have subscribed to SoHo as simply an add-on or have taken it but dropped other packages, like Movies or Sports, or premium channels, like Rialto or Arts.

The latest issue of Onfilm reports minimal impact on Rialto, with the channel confident it “will not be hugely affected on a subscriber basis”.

Fellet says the popularity of SoHo and My Sky HD recorders were key drivers of Sky’s 3.8% revenue hike, to $62.7 million in post-tax profits.

“Sky will continue to invest in the technology to develop and deliver the products and services our New Zealand customers want.

“Our decision to invest in high definition television and personal video recorder capability five years ago is demonstration of this and Sky will continue to strive to best leverage the capabilities of new technologies, including the wider availability of higher broadband speeds in New Zealand.”

Here’s hoping we see signs of this with more HD channels this year.

When SoHo launched, Fellet said he would give the channel six months to settle in before considering fresh HD initiatives.

But SoHo’s overnight success should spur Sky into fast-tracking HD as the priority for new channels rather than a costly strategy it’s been reluctant to embrace outside a handful of in-house channels and three FTA services.

Because HD soaks up four times as much bandwidth as SD, Fellet’s been cautious about adding more HD choices and straying beyond the low-risk, crowdpleasing genres of sports and movies (Sky’s programming bill alone for SoHo appears to be about $4 million).

But SoHo’s phenomenal uptake should remove all doubt about Sky’s growth strategy: forget about the biggest bang for the buck, focus on the best bang for the buck.

SoHo delivers the latter both in the excellence of its content and HD quality.

Instead of adding more SD twaddle, like lifestyle and entertainment options crammed with FTA re-runs, Sky should be providing content that can’t be accessed on FTA — either because the broadcasters don’t screen it in HD (like most of the shows that air on TV One, and everything on Four and Prime) or don’t screen it at all (like The Daily Show, Late Night With Bill Maher or the excellent Euro-crime dramas, such as the original Killing, that have been BBC4 sensations).

Sky only has to look across the Tasman to see what sister satcaster Foxtel is offering with its 200+ channels.

They include:

  • HD feeds of UKTV (with a vastly superior mix of content than Sky’s SD version), BBC Knowledge, Discovery and National Geographic
  • A&E HD, which combines HD versions of shows relegated to SD on Sky’s History and C&I feeds
  • Fox HD and W HD, which showcase entertainment shows that typically are dusted off in SD on The Box or Vibe
  • Lifestyle HD (okay, it’s reality bilge, but at least it’s in HD).

And these are are on top of Foxtel’s seven HD sports channels and six HD movie channels.

The tangle of FTA rights in this territory might make it harder for Sky to mount a new niche entertainment channel, like sci-fi.

But the response to SoHo reveals there’s plenty of pent-up demand for quality, distinctive HD content — and a great place to start would be converting Sky’s FTA channel, Prime, to 1080i.

In the meantime, Sky needs to halt its infuriating FTA-style promotions on SoHo.

These range from squeezing or overriding a programme’s end credits/music, merely to promote next week’s episode, to telling viewers what’s on next, or where to download content they may have missed, even before the credits roll.

Such intrusive and gratuitous clutter is inexcusable given SoHo not only screens premium content but also costs a premium — which Sky recognises by limiting advertising to 90 seconds an hour between programmes.

Promoting programmes during the hour undermines this admirable policy and as well as being distracting, demonstrates bad faith with subscribers.

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2 Responses to “SoHo: The First 100 Days (or So)”

  1. I subscribed to SoHo from day one and wouldn’t be without it now. We watch more programmes on SoHo than any other channel. I do agree that Sky needs to cut back on all of its promotions on SoHo, though.

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