Stephen van Rooyen's Speech at the Deloitte Enders Media and Telecoms Conference 2020

Thursday 5 March 2020
Stephen van Rooyen Headshot

Check against delivery

It is a real privilege for me to be on this stage today – as someone who loves television – in a room filled with so many people who have contributed to the creation of some of the most compelling, original and enriching television that the UK has ever seen.

As you’d expect, I’m incredibly proud of the contribution Sky is making to this – “The Golden Age of Television”.

From the way our journalists at Sky News provide impartial, fact-based, in-depth coverage of today’s news stories in an age blighted by fake news.

To the constant innovation and ever expanding coverage at Sky Sports – which, despite the cries of the death of live linear channels saw audiences rise by 15% last year.

To agenda setting, multi award winning Sky Original dramas like Chernobyl.

In 2020 we will bring 80 original drama, comedy and entertainment shows to our customers screens – that’s 25% more than last year.

Our customers can look forward to shows like Punchdrunk Theatre’s first TV production, Third Day, with Jude Law – another Sky/HBO co-production...

To the second series of a Sky Germany Original series, and a personal favourite of mine, Das Boot - Or a new satire, based on what we all really think about what it is to be a modern parent in Breeders with Martin Freeman.

Not only are we creating more than ever before, BUT we are making it an even easier and richer experience for our customers.

For example – in less than 6 months, we will have launched into 5 new discrete genres and created two more live channels - as well as comprehensive on-demand areas to aid customer navigation.

We’ve already launched Sky Crime and Sky Comedy – and we have Sky Nature, Sky Documentaries, and Sky History coming soon.

I’m pleased to say our plan has really paid off – take Sky Crime, our first launch - where we now regularly deliver audiences almost 3 times higher than the record audience ever recorded for true crime documentaries on pay TV.

And I’m really pleased that in the future, much of our new content will be produced at the new 30 acre Sky Studios campus we are building in Elstree.

With 12 Sound Stages we expect it to generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK’s creative economy over the first five years of operation.

It’s moments like these, when you reflect on the performance of the business, that you realise just how far Sky has come.

When Sky launched, we were solely a satellite broadcaster delivering a reasonably narrow range of linear channels.

Today we are Europe’s biggest direct to consumer media company, producing content in every genre and distributing it in every media.

We built our own streaming platform – NOW TV – that now underpins NBC’s Peacock...

Over the last handful of years, we’ve grown to well over a million Sky Mobile customers. And our broadband network is constantly being expanded and our service invested in as we continue to grow our subscribers.

We have a thriving business across seven European countries, with over 24 million customers, employing 32,000 people.

And of course, we are now part of Comcast, one of the world’s best media and technology companies.

Of course, we are just one part of the rich media landscape. And – just as we keep changing, so the rest of the landscape keeps changing too.

At the very heart of this change is - of course - the customer, or viewer. That much is always obvious. What is staggering though is the speed at which this is now happening.

What our customers and viewers want, how they want it, when they want it and where they want it is going through rapid metamorphosis.

We believe, that given the speed, breadth and depth of this transformation, no one single market player – regardless of size or position or resources – can adapt fast enough.

Additionally, we believe it's wrong for any player to adopt a ‘winner takes all’ mentality.

Simply, no matter how good any of us are, it's impossible to monopolise the breadth of creativity that our customers and viewers crave from what we as an industry produce.

So, what is becoming abundantly clear, is that this accelerated and profound change in customer demand is creating new imperatives that require us – as an industry – to think differently.

To break from our past, to overcome our prejudice and muscle memory, and think afresh about how we succeed in this, the next phase for us all.

So I want to talk about three of those new imperatives which I think will make a difference both to us – the industry – and to those we serve — our customers, viewers and our community:

  • First, I’d like to talk about the need for Partnerships. We all need to work with others — as well as compete with others.
  • Second, I’d like to talk about the need to modernise our underlying regulation.
  • Third, I’d like to talk about the need for us all to better reflect the communities we serve.

Let me start with the first of these points. Partnerships.

I am not the only person in this room who can talk about the way their business is producing some of the best content it has ever created.

At the BBC, it ranges from genre bending dramas like Killing Eve to the global phenomenon that is Strictly.

Netflix isn’t just streaming box sets, it is winning Oscars.

And there’s HBO. You can bet that just about everyone in our industry had the popcorn out to watch the final season of Game of Thrones.

It is clear the talk of a ‘golden age’ of television is not just hype.

This choice and quality of content is amazing news for the viewer, – but of course this abundance creates a new set of problems.

When Sky was formed there was precious little choice about what to watch.

Now, arguably, there is almost too much – and even worse — the viewer has seen an incredible fragmentation of the places to see it.

Customers tell us – and we all feel it ourselves – that it is not only confusing trying to find something to watch in the avalanche of content available.

It is even harder to know which platform or app has the rights to which films, and to which shows, or to which live sports.

Whether you subscribe to the Paradox of Choice – or Buridan's Principle – when we all ask viewers to do too much, to wade through so many options – we risk that in the end they simply just opt out because it’s just too difficult.

Data on Netflix itself suggests that if you spend over 90 seconds browsing, the risk of the viewer opting out and doing something else like playing with their phone, or switching to another service increases dramatically.

So, at the same time as we at Sky have dived in to creating great programmes – we have also stepped up our game when it comes to content aggregation and navigation.

On the aggregation side, this clearly means partnerships, because our clear focus is on making it easy for our customers to find what they like and want to watch.

Netflix, for example – often billed as one of our biggest competitors — is happily integrated into Sky Q because we are committed to making sure our customers can find the content they want — irrespective of its source.

Yesterday we added Netflix to our Sky basics package as standard.

Two weeks ago, we launched a new package with Sky Sports and BT Sport in a single subscription. And you’ll find them both in the sports section of the guide.

We have other partnerships in content – with HBO, with NBC, and of course now with Disney – as well as many others.

We also have them in technology with the BBC, Virgin Media and others.

And we have advertising partnerships, including with Channel 4 – through our innovative Ad Smart technology too.

We also have partnerships in content sharing – where with Channel 4, for instance, we have shared rights, experimented with box set releases and tried new windows.

It is true to say – despite some of the noise around prominence – that you’re just as likely to find something promoted from the BBC, as you are Sky Atlantic; from ITV as you are from Sky One; from Netflix as you are Sky Comedy;  from BT Sport as you are Sky Sports; or from YouTube, as you are a podcast from Spotify.

Because in the end, Sky as a platform only succeeds in keeping its customers happy if makes it effortless for a customer to find what they love.

Now, it’s because we love content, as both a platform and a broadcaster that we understand how to do this.

This is why, alongside investing in content we keep investing heavily in our technology.

This was the very heart of our mission when we created Sky Q.

We are incredibly proud to have designed and built what we believe is one of the best products of its type anywhere in the world — right here in the UK.

We have employed thousands of software engineers to develop and evolve it and thousands more installers to get it set up in our customers’ homes.

And four years - almost to the day - after its launch, and with over 50% of our UK customers using it, we know why our customers love it.

Customers with Q watch more TV and have higher satisfaction than we ever achieved with Sky+.

Our mission to put 'Everything is in one place’ and make it ‘easy’ is paying off.

We believe that making ALL the content you love easy to find at the touch of a button – or with your voice – all on one single monthly subscription – in a world where customers face ever more complication and fragmented choice – is a recipe for success.

In my view, working together to make it even easier for customers and viewers to find and enjoy their favourite content is how we are going to succeed – both individually and collectively.

And the truth is that only by doing so will we as an industry deliver on better serving our audiences and customers.

And that brings me to my second theme: the need to modernise underlying regulation.

There are a number of areas across our industry where it seems regulation has found it hard to keep pace with the rapidly changing market dynamics. 

Let’s start with Public Service Broadcasting.

This country is beginning a major debate about the future of public service broadcasting.

It has probably never been more important than at this juncture - given the same forces are at play; fast changing consumer behaviour driven by a fast changing competitive market.

Public Service Broadcasting is still seen as vitally important to our nation.

Not only because the average person still watches around 5 hours of TV a day – a large proportion of which goes to the PSB’s – but because broadcasters holding a PSB licence are required to “deliver impartial and trusted news, UK-originated programmes and distinctive content”.

The ultimate aim being – as Ofcom wrote in its ‘Public Service Broadcasting in a Digital Age’ report, “to deliver high quality television that is able to reflect the UK back to itself”.

I’d like to touch on a few of these.

Let’s start with PSBs needing to ‘deliver impartial and trusted news’ and let me turn to Sky News.

Sky News is widely available and provides impartial news to 100 million viewers across Europe. According to OFCOM’s own research it competes with – and even leads – the terrestrial UK broadcast news operations – including the traditional PSBs – on trust, on quality and on impartiality.

Sky News was recognised during the Sky acquisition saga as a 'cornerstone of broadcast news plurality’ in the UK.

And, it has guaranteed funding and guaranteed independence.

For us, it feels and looks like what we are delivering today is something very much in service of the public without any obligation to do so.

But, we would like to do more. The launch of NBC Sky World News will give Sky News access to even greater international news gathering resources and we’d like to do more locally as well.

Regional News - we believe – is a hugely important segment of the UK News market.

As local published media has collapsed, the importance of video news increases. We also believe that there has been a real lack of innovation in this area.

Holding a public service licence is a privilege and we believe with the privilege comes a deep responsibility to provide – ahead of commercial interests – the delivery of what it was envisioned that licence holders would have to do in the first instance.

We believe that more can be done in the PSB review to make the provision of Regional News more innovative, high quality and multi-platform.

New models perhaps, that enable everyone, Sky News included, to participate in delivering better impartial and trusted news across all our nations and regions.

The same could be said about those contributing to delivering 'UK-originated programmes and distinctive content'

I've already, earlier, highlighted our commitment to scaling production in the UK with 80 Sky Originals this year alone, which will grow further over the coming years as our commitment to Sky Studios Elstree scales.

This will include very British productions – Brassic, Breeders, Gangs of London, I Hate Suzie, Cobra, Save Me Too or Brittania.

And as far as distinctive goes, even if you look beyond Sky Arts – still the UK’s only dedicated arts channel – Chernobyl, Das Boot, Zero Zero Zero or The New Pope all introduce audiences to new distinctive stories from beyond our shores.

Point being, our definition of the role - and therefore the specific responsibilities of a public service broadcaster in a future age needs to change as Sky, and many others, contribute more fully to providing the delivery of impartial and trusted news, UK-originated programmes and distinctive content.

Next, I would like to turn to the debate on levelling the playing field between online and offline.

I’d like to start with something close to my heart which is the duty to protect our children.

At Sky, we have invested heavily to create a safer environment for customers’ children.

The Parents’ Guide on Sky Q – created in partnership with Common Sense Media – provides in depth ratings for 3,500 movies and helps give families the deep details they need to make informed viewing choices.

With Kids Safe Mode on Sky Q, parents can lock their Sky Q in the Kids section using their PIN, keeping kids in a safe space.

You don’t have to hold a PSB licence to produce a Kids App. Sky Kids is a dedicated streaming service where kids can watch their favourite shows and play games in a child-friendly and safe environment.

And of course, we have the watershed and PIN protection at any other time.

And over and above all of that we have clear rules and regulations with respect to advertising for what is acceptable and what is not.

And if we go beyond the TV?

Well we take the same approach as far as we can into our broadband services.

Sky Broadband Buddy is an exclusive app that helps protect kids from seeing things online that they shouldn’t - regardless of the device they use at home.

Sky Broadband Shield is a free tool that allows users to filter which websites are seen in the home, and protects against malware and phishing infected sites across all internet connected devices

These are all fantastic things for our customers and for their families. But in truth, they shouldn’t have to exist at all.

These tools exist because there are huge swathes of media consumption and activity now taking place beyond the borders of regulation and we have stepped in to address that.

The fact that Ofcom cannot mandate something as simple as PIN protection for children on giant streaming services – services used ever more habitually by them – as they would say, a broadcaster, highlights the gap that exists.

Furthermore, a Christmas ad from a high street retailer that cannot run on ITV but can run online because of different rules of engagement denies a UK broadcaster funding it needs to invest back into the UK economy.

We understand these are complex issues, so we welcome the government’s first step towards regulating to increase accountability among companies that publish content which causes harm online.

We believe that in a world of converged platform media, regulation needs to follow suit and evolve too.

And we look forward to continuing working with the government and the industry to find a practical and robust way to turn that into reality.

I’d like to talk about the third and final area now, about us all taking a greater lead in reflecting our communities.

We live in a country where around 1 in 5 people are not ‘white British’. Too rarely does this group see people like them on TV – particularly in lead roles where their ethnicity is incidental to their character.

For us, the start was to set a target of 20% BAME representation on screen and off at our entertainment channels.

And we’re making progress – beating the target in some areas but still short in others. We are 11 points ahead of target on screen and have BAME representation in a senior role in every Sky commissioned show.

We did this because it's the right thing to do. To reflect our customers, our employees and our modern society.

Beyond that, we just think its good business. There is clear empirical evidence from McKinsey, Harvard and Forbes that companies with a more diverse workforce and agenda perform better over the long term.

For those of us who have lived it, we just know that to be true.

As a whole, our industry has a long way to go, and we are all learning how to make the changes we need.

But we need to do it. Particularly because we are the most visible industry in our society. Our commissioning decisions – who we cast, and how we encourage stories to be told - is a responsibility none of us should fail.

If the mission is “to deliver high quality television that is able to reflect the UK back to itself” - and if we know our viewers crave “UK originated and distinctive content” - then surely this is the shortest of shortcuts for us all to deliver on that pledge.

So, in conclusion.

We believe that only through building partnerships across our industry will we best be able to meet customers’ rapidly changing demands and needs.

That only by embracing the idea that we have to collaborate to deliver our ambitions will we all succeed.

We believe that in the modern media economy you don’t have to hold a Public Service Broadcasting licence to be in service of the public.

We also believe that modernisation of the rules that regulate the UK broadcasting and communications sector need to rebalance the playing field with the largest companies that have ever existed.

Finally, we believe that we should do more, individually, to reflect our communities.

Not only because its good business, but because no other industry has the opportunity to make more of an impact on changing minds than we all do.

Britain has a proud history of creating some of the best film, TV and music in the world.

I’d like to believe that by embracing all of these ideas we can all go on celebrating the golden age of TV because we have together safeguarded the benefits to society of everything television can offer.

I will end by giving you a quick look at some of Sky’s best content for 2020 – which of course I’m proud to say our customers will find ‘all in one place, easy…'

Related news