Sky Movies gets animated about on-demand

‘If anyone ever ran a movie service based on their own taste, it would be a failure,’ says director Ian Lewis

Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies, and Spider Man ready to race to the rescue

Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies, and Spider Man ready to race to the rescue

 

In the age of on-demand services, “is there anything on Sky Movies Premiere tonight?” is beginning to sound like an odd question.

Less than half of movie viewing on the Sky platform in the UK and Ireland now goes to its live linear movie channels, according to Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies.

“Every quarter the shift is away from linear towards on-demand.”

Sky’s on-demand options also account for just under 50 per cent of movie viewing on the platform, while about 10 per cent of its movie viewing relates to playback of movies recorded by customers to Sky+ boxes, or a kind of halfway house option between linear viewing and on-demand.

Not all Sky customers are connected to the on-demand service – about half of UK customers and a third of the estimated 700,000 Sky households in Ireland currently have access. But even customers who frequently use on-demand sometimes tune into the linear Sky Movies schedule “because they don’t want the hassle of choosing”, says Lewis.

Customers complained when Sky took down the “pop-up channel” Sky 007 which showed Bond movies on a loop even though the Bond catalogue remained available on-demand, he says.

The Bond pop-up is “probably the biggest one” it has done, with others including Sky Movies Christmas, Sky Movies Oscars, Sky Movies Musicals, Sky Movies Valentines and Sky Movies Superheroes.

Sky doesn’t disclose how many of its customers opt for the Sky Movies package as part of their subscription, and indeed in recent years non-Movies customers can avoid the premium but watch movies on a pay-as-you-go basis via Sky Store. In April it also launched a Buy & Keep service in which customers who purchase rather than rent a movie on-demand are also sent a physical DVD in the post.

“We never thought that service would include a physical DVD, but we did research with customers and everything they said to us made us think again,” says Lewis, who attributes it to both distrust of digital technology (the fear of deletion) and cultural instincts to hoard.

Sky Movies has what it calls a “crown jewels” list of movies on its on-demand service.

“We can never have all of them all of the time, but we try to get as many of the movies that people want,” he says.

“The competition has increased, which I think for customers is a great thing.”

He doesn’t count the box-set-focused Netflix as a direct competitor to his part of the Sky business, however. “It’s an odd comparison as Netflix is much more of a library service.”

But one thing Sky Movies does have in common with Netflix is that both are keen on whittling down the interval between a film’s life on the big screen and its emergence on the small.

“When I started in 2007 it was about getting movies on the channels 18 months after they had been in the cinema. Now it’s eight or nine months, and four months for getting them on the rental and purchase window on Sky Store.”

On-demand players have now begun questioning that four-month window, in part by experimenting with same-day releases for smaller, independent films.

“The problem for movie distributors is that they can’t get into the big exhibitors like the Odeons and the Vues and put it on somewhere else at the same time. It’s a frustration for me, but I think it’s ultimately a bigger frustration for producers.”

Only the likes of Skyfall, Avatar and Mamma Mia “hang around” cinema chains for 16 weeks.

More modest films “could be in and out of the cinema in a week, then nowhere for the next 15 weeks”, he points out. “It’s ridiculous. It’s 15 weeks of idleness.”

Meanwhile, the 2015 movie release calendar is even more stuffed than usual with sequels, with further instalments from the Star Wars, Bond, Mission Impossible, Fast and Furious, Terminator, Fantastic Four and Avengers franchises.

This could be good for both exhibitors and retail services Sky Store “in the short term”, Lewis says, though he also finds it “very hard” to imagine that they will all be box office winners. “Something is not going to work.”

Of late the big on-demand success has been Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, and he would be “very surprised if they don’t make a sequel”.

As for what is not being made, “clever thrillers” are “a missing sector” that he would like to see make a comeback, while 2014 has been lacking in great lead female roles, he believes.

But hit-prediction is not an objective science to which any one industry person has the answers, and nor do his individual preferences, or those of his “knowledgeable” team, have much to do with it anything.

“If anyone ever ran a movie service based on their own taste it would be a failure.”