Sky believes in a better choice for women viewers
TELEPRINTER:Sky Living is on the cusp of “a whole new phase” that will see it continue to target women, but not in a cliched “diets and weddings” way, says channel director Antonia Hurford-Jones.
In Dublin to promote Love Matters, a series of six one-off comedy pilots about the perils of falling in love, Hurford-Jones says the 20-year-old Living is a “well-loved” brand.
“I think what we have to do is take its strengths and apply it to today’s women,” she says. “There’s a danger of defining women’s interests as all about diets and weddings and fashion. There is a place for those topics on Living, but women have more broad interests.”
Her philosophy is to make and buy content with great stories. “If I say ‘you’re a woman so you’re really going to like this’, it just feels patronising.”
A less overt approach to Living’s female gender-skew also facilitates shared viewing. “Our research shows that women want to watch with their male partners, so if we go too female you not only alienate men but you alienate women.”
A Sky Living import such as the modern-day Sherlock Holmes series Elementary, which re-cast Dr John Watson as Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), is watched by men and women in different ways, Hurford-Jones believes. Men tend to focus on the clues of the case, while women are more interested in the relationship dynamics between Watson and Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), she suggests.
Sky Living is one of the 23 channels for which Sky Media sells local advertising, and TAM Ireland figures for the week ending February 17th show the channel and its +1 equivalent have a combined 1 per cent share of Irish television viewing.
More eyeballs are set to come its way. The channel has bought the “hilariously gory” NBC drama Hannibal starring Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, in which there is “ quite a lot of eating of body parts, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not”.
But what Hurford-Jones is properly excited about is an imminent explosion of home-produced content that will complement it on Living’s fattening schedule: Sky’s kitty for original programming – it will spend £600 million on British and Irish-produced programmes by the end of 2014 – is the envy of most broadcasters.
“The brilliant news is I get to spend loads of it myself,” says Hurford-Jones, who moved from Sky’s entertainment commissioning team to the Living role last August. Exactly how much she has to spend, she declines to say, as Sky does not break down its budgets by channel.
The programming pipeline includes five drama one-offs boasting female lead characters written by some of British television’s leading writers (male or female) including Annie Griffin and Sally Wainwright.
Meanwhile, the 10-episode Dracula, a Victoria-era NBC Universal co-production starring Irish actors Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Katie McGrath and Victoria Smurfit, is set to be “the biggest thing you’ll have seen homegrown-wise on the channel” later this year.
On the non-scripted side, one seasoned dash of fashion remains popular: Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model is entering its ninth series with Dannii Minogue on board as a judge.
So-called reality television has moved on from the peak of its contrived, extreme-personalities-in-a-room days, towards more “aspirational casting”, Hurford-Jones believes.
“In these austere times, I’m not sure you want to go home and watch people screaming at each other.”