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Sky branches into film

U.K. co. to produce, distribute features

LONDON U.K. feevee Sky Movies is branching out into film production, distribution and multi-platform releases. Sky Movies is also betting big on HD by launching seven HD channels in October, including six Sky Movies genre channels, to take its overall HD bouquet to nine channels. That, by the way, is nine more than any other channel in the U.K.

In July, Sky announced it would co-finance a remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with MTV and Fox Television Studios. Sky execs are also exploring involvement with other feature projects.

Sky has partnered with U.K. distrib-exhib Curzon Artificial Eye to release pics simultaneously in theaters, on pay-per-view and on-demand. The two companies debuted their experiment in February with Teuton-Turkish helmer Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven.”

They are expanding their strategy by inking a deal to release Tilda Swinton starrer “Julia” on multiple platforms in December. The decision to open an English-language pic this way, rather than a foreign- language arthouse title that doesn’t have much hope of crossing over with mainstream auds, is a sign of their desire to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to maximizing revenues in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.

Sky has ramped up its distribution joint venture — Odeon Sky Filmworks — with leading U.K. exhib Odeon by getting set to release three features in the coming months, including helmer Jennifer Lynch’s “Surveillance.”

The strategy is being overseen by Sky Movies and Sky Box Office director Ian Lewis.

“There are many ways for this market to evolve if people want it to endure,” Lewis says. “The riskiest thing we can do right now is sit on our ass and do nothing. We have to exceed expectations.”

Sky Movies’ diversification comes at a time of uncertainty at BBC Films and Film4, the film divisions of pubcasters BBC and Channel 4 that are traditionally the main TV supporters of British cinema. Though boasting an enviable development slate, execs at BBC Films are still attempting to ascertain the impact of the imminent departure of head of fiction Jane Tranter, who is going to Los Angeles to take a new post with BBC Worldwide as exec veep of programming and production, overseeing its U.S. scripted and reality business.

Film4, also riding high on the back of a strong year, is almost certain to feel the impact of recently announced budget cuts at Channel 4.

For all its moves to get more involved in a variety of film activities, however, Lewis is keen to ensure Sky Movies doesn’t get distracted from delivering its core services.

“Our mission is to enhance the overall viewing experience,” he says. “We’re not looking to put millions of pounds into being a film producer, but, when the opportunity arises, we will look at any opportunity clearly. It’s all about giving our subscriber base exclusive content.”