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Sky is After You

Simon Pitt | Television | Sunday 12th September 2010

I don't have Sky. I have no interest in getting Sky. Almost none of my friends, colleagues and family have Sky. Murdoch's latest scheme hopes to change all that.
Sky's headline-grabbing deal with HBO last week - acquiring the exclusive rights to the US channel's archive as well as all future shows and a first-look deal on all co-productions for around £150m - is just the start of the channel's aggressive assault on the high ground of scripted programming. [...] The idea is for Sky to bundle up this programming - along with News Corps FX Channel - into a premium package aimed at attracting new dish subscribers so far unmoved by the broadcaster's sports and movies offering.
Yes, Sky has now got all the film and sports fans it can (around 10 million of them) and is trying to get everyone else left: fans of arts and drama. And they hope to hook them by investing more in Sky Arts, buying out the complete HBO back catalogue, and ramping up their marketing.

In some ways, Sky is often seen as the slob's luxury. When Sky first came out, people bought it to get more television channels. Now people generally sign up to get the Film packages or so they can watch burly men running around on muddy fields trying to put balls somewhere (that's pretty much as far as my understanding of sport goes).

Sky's reputation was hardly helped by cynically hosting sports programmes with "very very bang tidy women". (To be honest with you, I don't even know what that phrase means)

Now, though, Sky wants to change all that.
"Even Guardian readers might take a dish if it means they get to see the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm before the DVD box set comes out," according to one insider. "This reduces BT and Virgin to telephony providers."
Of course, on the one hand, more drama coming to Britain and more competition for the BBC is a good thing. Even Mark Thompson accepts that:
And, particularly with Sky News and Sky Arts, the company has also shown a commitment to services which share many values with the BBC and the other PSBs. Sky is not the enemy of quality British Television - in fact it's an important provider of it.
But Sky's method of getting more "Guardian readers" to agree to a dish on their house is less appealing. Rather than increasing commissioning, or creating new dramas, they've thrown huge amounts of money and aggression at the problem.

Buying out exclusive rights to the whole HBO back and future catalogue is a fantastic idea, but the totality of the move is like someone who doesn't really understand or appreciate drama. It's as if someone told Murdoch that HBO produces some really good stuff that people like, and he's simply said, "right, buy it all. And make sure you stop anyone else getting any". It's the bulldozer approach to business.
The deal also illustrates the huge financial firepower Sky has at its disposal. It will spend £1.7bn on content this year, the majority of it on sports and film rights.
With this comes a huge amount of advertising. And there's a reason for this: the amount Sky spends on marketing is enormous.
Sky's marketing budget is larger than the entire programme budget of ITV1.
I live in a relatively middle class area of London, and our single marketing board has now had four consecutive Sky adverts on it. When I get on the bus, there's a banner telling me that with BT I only get two fish fingers worth of Sky sports, but with Sky I get five fish fingers worth of sport, all of which are also High Definition (brilliant, I love my processed fish in HD).

Sky Sports in HD pizza format

When I turn on the TV I see that the princess doesn't really care whether there's a pea in her bed, what she really cares about is high speed broadband. I feel demographically targeted. And that's probably because I have been.



Sky's fairytale adverts are, I have to agree with the Guardian, very entertaining.
Given that News Corporation has debased every other aspect of our culture, it's no surprise that Murdoch's lot have got their hog snouts into some of our favourite fairytales. Here, it's Hans Christian Andersen's The Princess And The Pea, in which a lovelorn prince tests a would-be princess's noble sensibility by seeing if she can detect a solitary legume through 20 mattresses. But this regal trollop is more concerned that her royal suitor installs Sky Broadband immediately. "And another thing," she purrs. "Stop putting vegetables in my bedding. It's perverse." It's a cynical renovation of a half-remembered bedtime story and, annoyingly, it's actually kind of brilliant.
And the rich old Media Mogul lived happily ever after

I'm not entirely sure about their Aladin based advert though which claims that:
Once upon a time there was a young entrepreneur called Aladdin
Now, I'm no expert on Mediaeval Eastern Folk Tales, but I'm fairly sure that Aladdin wasn't an entrepreneur, but an "impoverished young ne'er-do-well".

Now they've even poisoning our repository of folk wisdom with Conservative free market values.

In fact, while we're on the subject of cynical marketing, let's turn to Sky's latest approach to advertising Sky Arts:

Cor, I wouldn't mind painting her with my brush. Etc

There's no doubt the photograph is eye catching (I'll be honest, I find myself looking at this more often than Eric Catona brooding about "compromise" which it replaced), but, for all the wrong reasons.

A good advertising campaign reflects the values of the product that's being advertised. Increasingly, the most successful adverts are mini works of art. They emit style, wit and panache, and imply that these values are linked to the product their advertising.

Take, for example, Channel 4's current spectacular idents. They're stylish, witty and incredibly evocative. A striking ident can make all the difference to the public's perception of a channel.



In Sky's advert the model is actress and artist Meredith Ostrom and the photos were taken by John Rankin Waddell. According to Sky these posters are different from normal adverts:
Replacing advertising with art, Rankin has teamed up with Sky Arts to produce a series of stunning images which will be displayed on billboards, bus stops and phone boxes across the UK, transforming six city centres. [...]

Each image depicts a different side of the arts, from ballet to modern art, and features some of the country's brightest talent, including ballerina Tamarin Stott, musician Jim Cregan, actor Dan Fredenburgh, and artist and actress Meredith Ostrom.
But what impression does the Sky advert leave you with? Sure it's eye catching, but it reminds me of a whole section of Rankin's photography. Which is "art" in the loosest sense of the word.

To me, SKy's advert feels exploitative and cynical. In exactly the same way that Sky hires attractive blondes to present sports news, here they are again trying to use sex to sell a product.

Whatever the case, I feel, in many ways, the advert has excelled at representing Sky. A good advertising campaign reflects the values of the product that's being advertised and this poster has done this. But perhaps not in the way Sky wished. I don't see a sexy, sophisticated channel full of high culture and stylish programming, I see a cynical attempt to capture audience share based on demographic profiling, throwing money at a problem and then manipulative advertising.

But then, that pretty much sums up Sky.

SP



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