BSkyB’s new vision for future

Mipcom 2012

The company is emerging as a key content commissioner in the U.K. with a target of investing £600 million ($960 million) in British product by the end of 2014. And adding to its plate, the pay box is unveiling its own wholly owned distribution company.

What’s unusual for BSkyB is that rather than starting a new business from scratch, the firm acquired U.K. boutique distributor-producer Parthenon for a reported £16 million ($27 million) and then rebranded it Sky Vision.

The move reunites BSkyB’s content topper Sophie Turner Laing with Parthenon head Carl Hall. The pair first met at Hit Entertainment in the 1980s.

But why buy a sales company?

“The infrastructure that goes behind a distribution company is very complex, including rights systems and having the ability to manage someone else’s assets in a highly effective way,” explains Turner Laing.

“It is quite an unusual route for Sky to buy a relatively small company, but Parthenon has a very strong, almost boutique reputation. I know producers will feel they are being treated like royalty.”

Even so, to succeed in a tough business in what is a difficult economy — and where U.K. distributor Target folded this year — requires a strong catalog and an accomplished sales team. Hall employs around 50 people, half of whom are sales personnel.

With BSkyB on board, expansion is in the pipeline and opening a U.S. office is an early priority.

Regarding the volume of content the fledgling sales house is unveiling at the Mipcom sales mart in Cannes, Turner Laing was unable to be specific. The market is a soft launch for Sky Vision; the real push occurs at next spring’s MipTV.

Turner Laing and Hall emphasized the accent is on quality rather than quantity.

“This is not going to be a sausage factory,” says Hall. “We are going to be a very producer-facing company.”

Adds Turner Laing, “With our portfolio of channels at Sky, we are pretty much represented in every channel except children’s. In the past, Parthenon (Sky Vision) has specialized in factual, especially natural history, but it is a bit of a myth to suggest that to be a successful distributor you need to have drama or comedy specialists on board.

“What you need are fantastic sales people who are terrier-like at getting the best deal possible.”

It is too early to have a clear idea of which of Sky’s commissioned shows the newcomer is representing, but the potential to distribute proven winners is obvious.

“Great shows will always find an international market,” says Turner Laing.

Using other sales houses, BSkyB commissioned shows such as the thriller “Strike Back,” which is co-produced with HBO and sold to 27 countries, including Canal Plus in France and ABC in Australia.

The quirky comedy “An Idiot Abroad” has sold to 22 countries, including the U.S. and Canada where it airs on Discovery.

U.K. producers who have worked for BSkyB praise the satcaster’s way of doing business, but this could change if there is a compulsion to sign up with Sky Vision to get a show greenlit.

“Having our own distributor doesn’t necessarily mean we will represent every show that comes in the door at Sky,” says Turner Laing. “A lot of U.K. producers are already owned by sales companies. We are still open to ideas from absolutely everybody.”

Synergies are planned between the new sales house and what is commissioned, including co-productions and pre-sales to spread the cost of production. Ultimately the hope is that revenue generated by Sky Vision will be reinvested to fund Sky’s own shows and create more coin for commissioning.

For all its success as a TV firm (BSkyB sells broadband access and telephony, too), the paybox is a mature business and the rate of subscriber growth is slowing.

In looking for new sources of revenue, BSkyB’s plan of having a distributor on board is likely to prove good business, further underscoring its growing reputation as a force in the content game.

With annual profits of £1.2 billion ($1.9 billion) and 10.3 million subscribers, the success of News Corp.’s pay TV platform BSkyB speaks for itself.

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