Entertainment

Sky CEO Dana Strong Talks Comcast’s Potential Appetite for Channel 4, Drive for Partnerships in Europe

Sky’s new American CEO Dana Strong has touted the U.K. as an “imperative market” for parent company Comcast as it looks to grow its investment in local infrastructure, and strengthen its European partnerships.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge on Wednesday, where she was interviewed by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby, Strong made her first public address since taking the reins as CEO at the pay-TV operator in January.

Strong kept her cards close to the chest throughout the session, diplomatically dodging questions about the health of the U.K. market, which is being disrupted in a major way by streaming services — a strained reality that’s traditionally a central topic of discussion at the annual conference. “You don’t respond to the rumored anxieties in the market,” declared Strong.

“You’ve got to look at the fundamental principles,” she continued. “Looking at the [public-service broadcasting] market, it’s an extraordinary PSB sector, and a very developed broadband marketplace that’s still growing and innovating. There’s an extraordinary pool of production companies and talent in front of and behind the scenes. When you look at those fundamentals, you remember that a house is built on foundations, and this foundation is rock solid.”

Asked about the potential privatization of “The Circle” and “Great British Bake Off” broadcaster Channel 4 — for which a government consultation closed Tuesday night — and whether Sky might throw its hat into the ring for ownership, Strong did not betray any planned bids that may be underway.

“It’s really a matter for government,” said Strong. “It’s premature to speculate until we get more information from government. [Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon] and the team have done a fantastic job at Channel 4 and built a really exciting business, and regardless of outcome, we’ll be great partners.”

As for Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ taste for acquisitions in the current landscape, Strong said the leader “has a good track record, but is very selective.”

Comcast’s three major acquisitions, which include NBCUniversal, DreamWorks Animation and Sky, have been “transformational” for the company, she said. “[Roberts] is surgical and refined in his taste. Acquisitions are important in accelerating growth but [it is] selective and refined.”

Strong joined Comcast earlier this year, taking over from 13-year Sky veteran Jeremy Darroch. The executive, who joined Comcast in 2018 from Sky competitor Virgin Media in the U.K., most recently served as president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, the largest broadband and TV provider in the U.S., with nearly 33 million customers.

Strong — who was educated in the U.S. but spent the majority of her career in the U.K. and Australia — was previously president and COO of Virgin Media and chief transformation officer of Liberty Global, as well as CEO of UPC Ireland and COO of satellite operator AUSTAR in Australia.

Strong’s key message for the RTS audience was the power of partnerships for Sky — a model she’s now experienced from both sides. “Even when I wasn’t at Sky, I was always doing partnership negotiations with Sky,” she said. “We have a long track record of forming partnerships. Right now, those are in a better place than ever.”

Sky recently refreshed its strategic partnerships with ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, which effectively places the public-service broadcasters’ content on Sky’s various TV products. According to Sky, a third of public-service broadcasting views comes from Sky.

“We’re in a better position to celebrate that content than ever before,” said Strong. “We have always done business with a complex array of competitors… it’s how I’m personally wired. It’s a sign of a mature business and industry to recognize there is an exchange of goods we can have where both parties benefit. That’s just modern, mature business.”

Comcast recently threw a curveball in Europe with the surprise plans for SkyShowtime, a new streaming service set up with ViacomCBS that will span 20 markets.

The new platform, which is called SkyShowtime, will reach 90 million homes and convene entertainment, movies and original series from NBCUniversal, Sky and ViacomCBS brands, including titles from Showtime, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Plus originals, Sky Studios, Universal Pictures and Peacock.

“Our view was we were better together,” said Strong of the deal. “[We thought we] should do this together because the brands work well together.”

The CEO also talked up the similarities between Sky and Comcast. “We wake up in the morning and talk about the same things,” she quipped, highlighting a keen ability to “tap into the synergies and benefits” of a strong technological underpinning for product innovation, as well as a widespread content production and distribution apparatus.



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