Sky finds Arts HD success

BSkyB is launching a second Arts Channel in order to boost its contemporary as well as classical programming. It seems Sky has discovered a useful niche in bringing in more up-scale viewers. It launches on Monday Oct 20, and represents a doubling of Sky’s “arts” budget.

Sophie Turner Laing, managing director of entertainment at Sky, said: "Arts is integral to the Sky platform and we now have the wealth and breadth of diverse arts content to warrant two dedicated arts channels. At a time when other broadcasters commitment to the arts is open to question, we firmly believe in giving our customers the best choice, all delivered in the highest possibly quality, HD."

As far as programming is concerned, Sky’s Arts 1 channel will transmit a more contemporary schedule including live rock concerts as well as archive material from the likes of Johnny Cash and The Who, while the existing channel’s highly attractive opera coverage will migrate to Sky Arts 2. Sky Arts HD will stay as a single high-def channel but show the “best of” material from both services. Both channels will strip programming at regular times across their schedules.

BSkyB is clearly targeting those British viewers – whether to quality classical or rock music, book discussion shows and arts programming generally - who are seen as minority interests by the UK’s mainstream networks, even the two public broadcasters (the BBC and Channel 4) whose responsibility is to cover such niche interests. The topics, once easily found on the BBC’s second channel or Channel 4, are increasingly rare.

Artsworld, as Sky Arts was first called, has morphed somewhat away from its original brief, but there’s no doubt that the move to boost investment in more “quality” programming doesn’t come a moment too soon. Indeed, with the whole question as to how public cash is being allocated in TV, it is not impossible for Sky to put its hand out for a slice of that pie.