Sky Italia Programming Chief on the Impact of Sky Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

Pan-European pay-TV giant Sky has hit Venice with two of its original series in tow, “The New Pope” and “ZeroZeroZero,” the only TV shows with premieres on the Lido this year. Both are Italy-based but conceived with global audiences in mind, and come from the new Sky Studios in-house production unit headed by Gary Davey.

Nicola Maccanico, Sky Italia’s executive vice president for programming and the managing director of the company’s Vision Distribution unit, which releases movies theatrically in Italy, spoke to Variety about Sky’s ambitions and investments in original content under its new owner, Comcast. (The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.)

How is Sky Studios going to impact Italian production?

It’s clear that we want to produce more and better content, and have more control and ownership of our content. But at the same time, we want this to be a single global strategy under a single structured oversight. The really big gamble for Sky Studios is the idea of a studio that is able to produce scripted content that can conquer the world, produced with a wide range of modalities, and which can achieve its full potential thanks to the intersection between a global strategic vision and the needs and strengths of local talents.

How will Italian producers be impacted? Does this mean fewer strictly local productions?

Sky Studios is simply the acceleration of a process that Sky had already started in its various territories. It won’t be detrimental to the dynamics already at play in these territories, nor to the creation of local product, which we will continue to make. That said, we will be producing a greater amount of international product.

In its deals for international productions, will Sky demand to have all international rights? If so, are they willing to fully finance?

We are ready to do everything. The idea is to move as much as possible to build content from the outset, because in the new world, controlling content gives you a more solid rapport with your clients. The real risk is that you have a great rapport with your network of subscribers, but you don’t have content to give them. To bolster the strong connection with our subscribers — 20 million across Europe, more than 5 million in Italy — we must be sure to meet their expectations in terms of content. Historically this could be done with acquisitions, but today this is no longer the case.

Whether this content is fully financed or in partnerships will depend on the content. Over the years we’ve worked with a great deal of flexibility. Going forward, it’s clear that we will be more likely on international projects to have all rights for Sky territories and beyond — to be the ones in the driver’s seat, in terms both of airplay and sales. That said, content is king. We want access to top content. So there is no single business model, despite the fact that Sky Studios was set up for full ownership and control.

What else does the Sky Studios model entail?

That we will try to do as many things together as possible, and create as much content as possible that Sky can use in all territories. Within this framework, it’s clear that, given the rapport with Comcast and Universal, international sales will be particularly relevant. But it’s not a model cast in stone. It’s our preferred model, but depending on circumstances we can do things differently.

Is Sky setting up other production hubs besides London in Europe, like Netflix?

We are still building the structure, but the idea is that the control room will be in London [headed by Davey]. Local resources and manpower will be at Sky Studios’ disposal, and all territories will work collaboratively.

Can you give me a brief recap of other Italian Sky originals in the pipeline?

Sky Studios aside, we have picked up the pace in recent months by adding, alongside our high-concept series, other quality local content featuring some mainstream Italian talents. Case in point is the TV series “Petra” [featuring a hard-boiled inspector played by Italian actress Paola Cortellesi], the series on [star soccer player] Francesco Totti. Then on the high-concept side there is [financial thriller] “Devils,” which is coming along nicely, and [Rome origin series] “Romulus,” which is currently shooting, just to name a few.

How does Sky Italia’s film distribution arm, Vision Distribution, factor into the equation?

It’s helped Sky build an ecosystem and widen its range of rapport with Italy’s production community. It’s also led to innovative cross-media activity…for example, “The Immortal” [a spinoff movie from the “Gomorrah” series]. For the first time, between the fourth and the fifth seasons of “Gomorrah,” we will insert a movie that is a bridge between the two seasons…It will be necessary to see it to fully understand the fifth season. This has never been done before. And it’s something that we can do in-house thanks to our film distribution arm.

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