Content to air only on BSkyB channels

LONDON — U.K. satcaster BSkyB has pledged to invest “millions” into British feature-length TV pics, which will be available exclusively to its customers.

In what seems by some to be a token gesture, the announcement of the “multimillion pound investment” comes after the network has been widely criticized for not plowing more coin into homegrown U.K. content.

While the full amount that will be injected into Brit content is undisclosed, the move comes as part of the satcaster’s commitment to increase investment in home-grown programming to £600 million ($949 million) by 2014, an increase of more than 50% over three years.

Investment in content will be funneled into two types of production: family-focused fare, which will preem on Sky Movies from 2013, and documentaries, which will preem on Sky Atlantic HD and Sky Movies.

Over the next five years, BSkyB has pledged to invest in a number of feature-length family pics, which will be funded by a six-figure development fund. New productions are currently in development and the network is looking for further submissions.

The satcaster said it will “prioritize projects that appeal to the whole family, with an emphasis on new, cinematographic quality content that matches the scale and ambition of recent home-grown commissions such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Never-land.’ “

Green-lit features will have budgets around the $7.9 million mark.

In a bid to make Sky Atlantic a home for docu films, the network is introducing a new primetime strand in early 2013 and up to 12 primetime docus will form the slate.

Projects in each strand will be commissioned and acquired exclusively for BSkyB customers and will not receive a U.K. theatrical release.

On the one hand, the move can be seen as a step forward for the TV biz as the network has largely been criticized for not spending enough of its profits on investment in British content.

On the other, the move is underwhelming for the U.K. pic biz, particularly given the government’s Film Policy Review specifically called for the network to invest more in feature-length, theatrical releases.

By focusing on investment in content exclusive to BSkyB customers, its pledge is rather different from that of BBC Films, Film4 and BFI, which all seek to invest coin into feature-length pics with theatrical and international potential (such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech”).

“We’re a TV company and our first priority is to invest money in channels,” a BSkyB spokesperson told Variety. “Our own thinking will not be shaped by what Film4 and the BBC do, and we don’t base ourselves on trying to replicate those models. We don’t have a remit like BBC and Film4, but what we do want is to invest money in creative content that our customers can see first.”

In a statement, BSkyB chief exec Jeremy Darroch said: “We know British programming resonates strongly with our customers, so we’ve been building our capability in this area over the last couple of years.

“I’m very encouraged by the progress we’ve achieved so far, particularly in original comedy and drama, but we’re only at the start and we’re determined to raise our ambitions again and keep improving.”

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