It was while browsing BSkyB’s September 5th prospectus on the raising of £10 billion in fresh financing (the £10 billion Euro Medium Term Note Programme) that it dawned on me: Sky should dump its advertising segments.
The fact is that all the Sky channel ads, all the interruptions, all the commercials for ambulance chasing lawyers, all the pleas for funeral cover, and the seemingly endless ads for some celebrity’s ‘free pen’ if you sign up to this or that scheme… Together, the 32 Sky-branded channels bring in a miserable £472 million, or 6 per cent of last year’s overall revenues. I think Sky would be better off without the income.
Channel 4’s ad revenues last year were £825 million. ITV brings in £2.4 billion.
I for one would happily pay at least some extra cash to see the end of commercials. I for one would love Sky Atlantic to be commercial free. I would love the two Sky Arts channels to be ad-free (as they were in their early days). Sky manages to keep its movie channels free of commercial interruptions (other than at the end of a movie), so why not its other flagship channels? If HBO, which is part of Sky Atlantic offers its North American viewers commercial-free programming, then why is the UK a second-class of viewer? And while I’m grumbling, what’s happened to ‘AdSmart’ the system whereby ads can be targeted to the right demographic? Why am I seemingly still being bombarded with ads for diapers, and a ton of stuff that’s of zero interest?
It is obvious that 11.5 million current subscribers (plus another 4m wholesale subs taking some Sky service or other) might not agree with my suggestion to pay more. Some might, of course, but my gut feeling is that Sky would be so much better off in being able to promote –even some of – its own channels as being “all ad-free” that extra subscribers would come into the fold. Besides, by Sky’s own admission there are 14 million homes in the UK and Ireland who are NOT subscribing.
There is another crucial problem in that a mechanism would have to be found for ‘filling’ the 8 minutes or so an hour currently taken up by commercials and self-promotions. Thirty-minute shows are never actually 30 minutes, nor are 60 minutes shows a full hour. Something has to fill the gap. But I remember the wonderful short documentaries made by Canal Plus. Sky could easily match the BBC in commissioning new material, whether short factual or historical clips (“on this day”, or “a glance back in time”, “the making of”’). I might even welcome a 5 minute edited highlights package of a key sporting fixture, or news brief.
That these would cost money is inevitable, but at least they’d be entertaining.
However, it is also true that even if BSkyB itself dropped the advertising segments, there would be the Discovery, Viacom, Turner and other non-Sky-owned channels would still have to depend on commercials. And there are 134 “Sky Distributed channels” amongst the 195 pay-television channels offered as part of Sky’s overall bouquet.
So, in truth, we would never escape the ads completely. But my advice to Sky is to make a start. Drop the ads from Sky Atlantic, and the others mentioned.