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Sky Outlines Plans for ‘Cinematic’ Original Content on a Par With HBO, Showtime

Comcast-backed Sky has outlined plans for expanded and “cinematic” original content to rival U.S. networks HBO and Showtime. Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Thursday, Sky managing director of content Zai Bennett explained some of the ways the pay-TV giant plans to invest in original content after its programming budget was recently doubled by new owner Comcast.

Bennett said there would be a steady ramp-up in spending and output over the next five years, with the “vast amount” of the money being devoted to channels Sky One and Sky Atlantic. Comcast announced in June that Sky’s original programming budget would increase from approximately £500 million ($612 million) to £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in five years.

Sky Atlantic, which is home to shows such as “Chernobyl,” co-produced by HBO and Sky, is purely for “chewy, grown-up, immersive, challenging drama that stands shoulder to shoulder with HBO and Showtime around the world,” said Bennett.

Sky One, meanwhile, is “a bit more fun and entertaining” and has taken a “step up” in recent years with shows such as “Bulletproof” and “A Discovery of Witches,” as well as entertainment and comedy output.

He said a common theme for all the shows on the channels is that “production values are cinematic across the board.”

Bennett said Sky had an “amazing, fruitful relationship” with new owner Comcast, explaining that it had brought “surety and long-term focus” to Sky. “We are now very much looking at the long term, what can we do, where things are working, where we can accentuate them.”

He said that while Sky is developing some projects with NBC, Comcast treats Sky as a separate business with its own business culture. “They bought Sky because it is working,” Bennett said. “And they want it to keep it working and for it to get bigger.”

Bennett urged producers to bring ideas early to Sky so that the broadcaster could develop projects with them from the start, and make them “bespoke” for Sky. He added that “specificity” is really important, citing drama hit “Chernobyl.” “By being really specific, you can make a show that is incredibly local and successful for the U.K. but that will also travel.”

Bennett’s comments come a day after Sky said it was adding two new channels to its entertainment portfolio, Sky Crime and Sky Comedy. Sky Crime launches in October, and will air “premium U.S. true crime” shows from U.S. pay TV networks Oxygen and HBO. The channel’s key shows include “I Love You, Now Die” and “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell.”

Sky Comedy will launch in February 2020, and air scripted U.S. comedy from HBO, NBC and Showtime, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Mrs Fletcher,” “A.P. Bio,” and Dwayne Johnson-vehicle “Ballers.”

Sky also announced at Edinburgh the commission of new original drama “I Hate Suzie,” about a star on the wane who has her life upended when her phone is hacked and a photo of her in a compromising situation emerges. The eight-part series stars Billie Piper, who is best known for her appearances in “Doctor Who” and “Collateral,” and is produced by Bad Wolf. Sky Vision will handle international distribution.

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