Comcast-backed specialty channel Sky Arts is set to go free-to-air from September, after years of speculation around the delivery of the U.K. arts offering.
“It is really timely in a way, particularly because the arts and culture sector is in crisis in many ways,” Philip Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, told Variety. “Theaters are facing an existential crisis and we need to support the next cohort of creatives.”
The channel is launching a series of bursaries worth £30,000 ($38,600) each, where leading figures from the arts will support and mentor diverse and emerging new artists. “You create diverse voices, you tell diverse stories, you diversify your audience,” says Edgar-Jones. “We want to reflect more of the country, more people.”
The channel has announced a tranche of new original programming, including “Landmark,” a series where artists and local communities across the U.K. will team to create the next great British landmark; a new series of “Portrait Artist of the Year,” featuring “Normal People” actor Paul Mescal, Fred Sirieux from “First Dates,” and singer Ray BLK; “Goldie: The Art That Made Me” with visual artist and musician Goldie; “Danny Dyer on Pinter,” where Dyer explores the life and works of Harold Pinter; “No Masks,” a new drama from Theatre Royal Stratford East based on the real-life testimonies of key workers in East London during the pandemic; and “Life & Rhymes,” a celebration of spoken word hosted by Benjamin Zephaniah; besides performances by Kylie, Ed Sheeran and U2, and operas and musicals.
Sky was believed to be considering a free-to-air play for Sky Arts back in May 2018, as part of a wider review of the channel’s operations. It’s believed the free-to-air move will now see more investment in original programs and greater outreach with the nation’s arts community.
Stephen Van Rooyen, executive VP and CEO of Sky U.K. and Europe, said: “By making Sky Arts free for everyone, we want to give more artists and arts organizations a platform to create and share their work and to bring more art and culture to everyone across the U.K.”
The Sky Arts On Demand library of arts content will remain exclusive to Sky and NOW TV entertainment pass customers.
Sky Arts currently has an average monthly audience reach of 6.2 million. Audiences increased by 50% during lockdown.