Sky announces HBO co-production deal

Image source, Sky

Media group Sky has announced a multi-year $250m (£195m) co-production deal with US television network HBO.

Sky said it would produce "high-end drama" and that the first projects are in development.

It also announced a virtual reality project with Sir David Attenborough and the Natural History Museum.

That news was released along with Sky's results for the nine months to April. It reported an 11% fall in operating profit to a little over £1bn.

Rising costs from screening Premier League football and a "weaker UK advertising market" dragged on profits, it said.

The broadcaster had a £494m bill linked to Premier League costs.

Drama deal

Sky said on Thursday that it wants to co-produce two drama series per year with HBO, with the first project being broadcast in 2018.

Announcements about the first projects are "expected in the coming weeks", Sky said.

Sky has co-produced dramas with Game of Thrones producer HBO before - for example, Young Pope was made in collaboration with Sky Atlantic, HBO and Canal Plus - but this is the first time that production companies will pitch to Sky and HBO together.

"The HBO and Sky partnership will be open to pitches from across the creative community, in both the US and Europe, and is looking for ideas consistent with the content strategies of HBO in North America and the Sky Atlantic brand in Europe," Sky said.

Sky has clinched a number of deals with HBO, including an exclusive five-year agreement in 2014 for Sky to distribute the HBO TV catalogue.

Alex de Groote, a media analyst with Cenkos, said about half the output on Sky Atlantic already came from HBO.

"This is the golden age of TV, or maybe the second golden age of TV, and one of the reasons for that is the amount of money being put to work in terms of high-end drama and high-end production by the likes of Sky," he said.

"If you go back 10 or 15 years, a lot of Sky's business model, certainly in the UK, was based around paying up for the footie and hoping to draw in subscribers on that basis.

"Well, that's sort of come to the end of the road now, so this is all about now wooing perhaps a slightly different demographic with pretty high-end drama, starring guys that previously probably would only have worked in film," he added.

Virtual fossils

On Thursday, Sky also announced the Hold the World project. Sir David Attenborough will present a virtual reality documentary about Natural History Museum artefacts, including fossils.

People will be able to use the technology to look at the objects in virtual reality while an avatar of Sir David narrates.

Sir David said: "I have enjoyed helping people to discover more about the natural world, and Hold The World offers people a unique opportunity: to examine rare objects, some millions of years old, up close.

"It represents an extraordinary new step in how people can explore and experience nature, all from the comfort of their own homes, and I am delighted to be able to help users uncover some of the treasures the Natural History Museum has to offer in a thrilling new way."

Snapped up

At present, Sky is the subject of a £11.7bn takeover bid from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

Fox wants control of the 61% of Sky it does not already own. The bid comes five years after Mr Murdoch's last try at taking over the business through News Corporation.

Critics of the merger say it will give Rupert Murdoch too much control of the UK media.

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