Title: Executive VP, programming, news and partner channels, Sky Italia.
As the Italian business prepares to become part of Sky Europe, Sky Italia’s Andrea Scrosati talks to TBI about its programming strategy, increased investment in original drama and entertainment, and what’s coming up at the Italian pay TV platform.
How was MIPCOM for the Sky Italia team this year?
The team was at MIPCOM in acquisitions mode. The event has become like speed-dating with 25-minute meetings through the day, and in 48 hours you can achieve a lot without having to take a nine-hour flight to LA.
The new, eighth, season of X Factor Italia [produced by FremantleMedia and Magnolia] has performed very strongly since starting in September, placing Sky Uno up there with the terrestrial channels in terms of ratings. The show has now been on Sky Uno for four years running, What have you done differently with this season?
A key difference with this edition was the teen and pre-teen target. Sky has about a 40% share in the 10-18- year-old group. My theory is you should always change a show when it is working and we changed it to skew younger. We have new judge, who is very edgy, a 25-year-old rapper, Fedez. He is top of the charts and he is increasingly tuned into the young generation and social media, which is a big help in terms of marketing and promotion. X Factor is always top of social media – we now have Nielsen numbers in Italy – and X Factor is number one in volume and unique users.
What is the return on the investment in an original format like X Factor for Sky?
There are several layers. The first point for me, when I joined five years ago, was that we needed to find a new leg for pay TV beyond kids, movies, sports and series. We needed a programming pillar that was truly exclusive. In Italy there are no exclusive soccer rights so we have the same [rights] as Mediaset Premium. Mediaset has programming deals with Warner Bros. and Universal, while we have Sony, Disney, Paramount, MGM and 20th Century Fox.
So, you decided to make original entertainment programming as well as scripted?
As a pay TV company we are creating a lot of on-demand viewing and driving that type of viewing, which is great for [scripted] series and means we can offer box sets and service such as Sky Go. However, we needed a programming pillar based on collective viewing – and it needed to be live and produced for us. Sky Uno is the only channel that has X Factor.
What other entertainment formats are you looking to remake?
Got Talent will start in March of next year [transferring from Mediaset channel Canale 5]. We want a portfolio of this type of show that we can start in September and run through to the end of June with something [original] every week.
We usually strip them and there is a daily half-hour [companion] show with behind the scenes action and interactive elements. Last year X Factor got 21 million votes while The Voice [on Rai] got 600,000.
Pay TV is about exclusive content and technology, and also about word of mouth. Families in Italy have endured a tough recession and when they get their pay TV bill at the end of the month, they need to be convinced; they need programming their friends are talking about. Original drama is something that, if you do it right, generates enormous word of mouth. Everyone, including the competition, was talking about Gomorrah and [political thriller] 1992 is next.
And the original drama will sit alongside the US scripted content from your studio deals?
The point is, because of the evolution of the market and the creation of all of the additional windows, pay TV finds itself in a situation where expensive deals with the studios give great product, but that product is available by other means and on other distribution platforms. Now, a telco could offer the same the same movies as a pay TV operator. When you own your own product that doesn’t happen. You want to watch Gomorrah? The only way you can see it is on Sky.
And, presumably, you create something that can be sold further afield?
Yes. Beta Film put up a big advance for distribution of Gomorrah. In one year we will sell to free-to-air in Italy. Gomorrah has sold to 100 territories. And there are other [pay TV] operators that have the same outlook as us, so when we sell to Canal+, for example, we will sell with full exclusivity. We speak the same language.
How many original dramas will you produce?
Today, we are working for two original dramas per year. We are working on 1992 and Gomorrah 2 at the moment and another project at the same level that we have not yet announced.
With Sky Italia being combined with its counterparts in the UK and Germany is there scope to work together on programming?
There is a big opportunity with Sky Europe. We already have Diabolik, which is based on an Italian comic character. It’s a dark action series that takes place in a world similar to that seen in The Dark Knight. There is three-way development underway and now we will select the showrunner. We will definitely do much more together now, I’m confident there is that opportunity.
When it comes to acquisitions, does the investment in originals mean you will be buying less?
Yes, we will buy a little less, but will work carefully with suppliers that have the right product. The Sky Atlantic channels all have output deals with HBO, and HBO makes exactly what you want on a pay platform.
Does the variety of drama out there put you in a stronger position when it comes to buying drama?
If anyone was at MIPCOM, they would have seen that one of the defining elements was the amount of scripted. Everyone is producing series. If you have a big platform like ours, you can be objective about everything we buy because there is so much out there. We can take risks with our choices and will do that much more, we can now decide from a slate of 15-20 series, the three or four we want.
The new ‘mega-distributor’ resulting from the Shine and Endemol has a strong corporate connection to Sky Europe [Sky Europe is backed by BSkyB, which in turn is part-backed by 21st Century Fox, the same company that is a half-owner of Shine/Endemol/Core].
Does that mean you will be working closely together?
‘Sky’ is obviously part of the same family [as Shine/Endemol/Core] so there is, by definition, an important opportunity. I have worked with [Shine/Endemol/Core boss] Sophie [Turner Laing] in the past and am looking forward to working with her in her new role. There is increasingly an opportunity for an entity like that to work with us regardless of the connection because it is a classic example of a company that could develop tailor-made product for pay TV platforms like Sky Europe or Canal+.