Its $983 mil budget will overtake C4, C5

News Corp. satcaster BSkyB is significantly beefing up its investment in U.K. production, upping its program budget to a level that could exceed that of terrestrial rivals Channel 4 and Channel 5 by 2014.

Move, announced by CEO Jeremy Darroch Wednesday, is certain to send a wave of competitive anxiety across the pay box’s rivals, especially commercial webs dependent on the vagaries of the ad market.

BSkyB, always tight-lipped about the amount it spends on shows, has for the first time put a figure on it.

Darroch said BSkyB now spends £380 million ($623 million) a year on original shows led by drama, such as the thriller “Mad Dogs,” made by Left Bank.

The figure includes commissioning programs from local shingles as well as the satcaster’s own inhouse productions in arts, entertainment, news and sport. It excludes its huge spend on sports rights, led by Premier League soccer, and overseas program acquisitions budget and partner channels.

The BSkyB topper said it would up investment in local content to $983 million a year over the next three years — more than terrestrial rivals C4 and C5 spend.

C4 recently said it spends $943 million a year on content, but that includes acquisitions.

Since Northern and Shell took over C5 last year its program budget has shrunk to about $115 million.

ITV1 and BBC1, Blighty’s two most popular webs, spend around $1.2 billion and $1.63 billion respectively.

Darroch said: “We are still a young company and we have ambitions to do a lot more and widen our contribution still further.

“When Sky began, it made perfect sense for us to focus first on areas which were then relatively under-served — sport, movies and 24-hour news in particular. As the business has grown and become successful, it has given us both the opportunity and the incentive to broaden out and create more choice beyond those initial strengths.”

BSkyB’s news comes as the government moves to give the final greenlight for News Corp. to buy the 61% of the satcaster it does not already own.

In August, BBC director-general Mark Thompson said BSkyB needed to do more to support U.K. production, claiming the pay box only invested $160 million a year in British-made shows.

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