Elisabeth Murdoch, managing director of Sky Networks, takes another
sip of Diet Coke and considers the question.
’Does ONdigital have the best Sky brands? Yes, some of them. It has Sky
One, Sky Sports and the movie channels such as Sky Premier and Sky Movie
Max. But it doesn’t have any of the joint venture channels, such as
Nickelodeon or The History Channel.’
The answer is smooth enough, but it seems odd that a rival distribution
platform should be able to offer the cream of Sky’s crop.
’Corporately it matters,’ says Murdoch. ’But my job is to generate
demand for our brands. It’s up to Sky Entertainment to capitalise on
With that she offers to draw me a diagram of how the different parts of
the Sky empire fit together.
As Murdoch talks, it becomes clear that the marketing function within
BSkyB has undergone a radical shake-up in recent months in a bid to stay
at the forefront of the multi-channel revolution.
Murdoch puts it this way: ’People primarily buy content.
As the marketplace becomes more sophisticated, we need category leaders.
We aim to build a strong portfolio of brands.’
Where once programme and platform marketing were combined in one role
(formerly held by Jim Hytner, now marketing director at Channel 5), the
two disciplines are now split.
Back in August, BSkyB’s managing director, Mark Booth, ordered a
management rejig, which resulted in the creation of two separate arms:
Sky Networks and Sky Entertainment.
Sky Networks is dedicated to the marketing of Sky’s wholly owned channel
brands, such as Sky One and Sky News, as well as its joint venture
operations, including Nickelodeon and The Paramount Channel. This is a
new departure: ’In the past, when we’ve marketed the channel brands,
we’ve tended to focus on acquisition, or on driving dish sales,’ says
Sky Entertainment is dedicated to marketing the BSkyB distribution
platform - in other words, the satellite dishes. The marketer in charge
of this division is Jon Florsheim, closely supported by brand director,
A third division, Sky Sports, was also formed, but this does not have a
dedicated marketing function.
Murdoch, who proved her mettle shaking up the programming at Sky One
last year, was promoted from BSkyB’s general manager, programming, to
managing director of Sky Networks.
Her brief was to organise the department in order to put programmes and
programme promotion at its heart. And it was essential that the
environment be fast-paced and creative.
’Networks is about the creation and supply of channels to the
I had to decide how to make it efficient and accountable. I also want it
to be as intuitive and simple as possible,’ she says.
Murdoch admits marketing will be a crucial factor in helping her meet
her objectives and, to this end, she has appointed Scott Menneer as
marketing director to spearhead the drive.
Menneer moves across from Sky Entertainment where, as a brand director,
he helped launch Sky Digital. Murdoch refers to him as a bridge between
the two departments.
Together, Murdoch and Menneer aim to turn Sky’s output into the
’must-have’ brands in the multi-channel environment.
At the heart of these changes in marketing is the growth of rivals in
the multi-channel market. ONdigital and cable will, by this time next
year, be real competition for BSkyB. The company knows that consumers,
when given the choice, may not want a satellite dish but they will want
its programming - from sport to Friends to film. Content will be
As you would expect, she denies there is any tension between Sky’s
programming and distribution arms. ’They’re different, but
Viewers need to know what they’re buying into in terms of content, but
they also want quality from a delivery point of view. Strong programme
brands are the pillars of what Entertainment is selling.’
Nevertheless, a former Sky employee says: ’There’s bound to be tension
when budgets are being decided. Who gets more, Liz or Jon?’
Murdoch is reluctant to discuss the issue, other than to say she is
pitching for budget in February and expects it to be ’healthy’.
In terms of building programme brands, Murdoch believes Sky Networks
could do worse than emulate Nickelodeon. ’They’ve done a fantastic job.’
’We’ve done well with Sky Sports, which has reached a level of maturity.
But we now have the opportunity to enhance the value of our other
programmes. We have to provide the most valuable brands in the TV
It could be her father talking.
1968 Born in Australia
1974 Moved to US. Completed her education at Vassar College
1992 Programme director at Fox TV
1994 Bought and made profitable two TV stations in northern
California together with her then husband, Elkin Pianim
February 1996 Joined BSkyB as general manager
October 1996 Promoted to head of programmes
August 1998 Managing director of Sky Networks
SKY NETWORKS: WHAT DOES IT OFFER?
Mainstays of Sky One have been The Simpsons, Friends, which Sky has
first rights to, and ER. This year, Murdoch relaunched the brand,
doubled programming spend and launched programmes such as Ibiza
Uncovered and Hollywood Sex.
The award-winning Sky News is Europe’s first 24-hour, dedicated
television news channel. Launched in 1989, it delivers bulletins on the
hour with headlines every 15 minutes, but is flexible enough to offer
extended live coverage of major events.
Sky Sports is acknowledged as having changed the face of sports coverage
in the UK. It offers 20,000 hours of programming each year, including
exclusive live rights to Premier League football and Rugby Union Five
Nations home matches.
Sky Premier, part of Sky Movies, shows both recent box office hits and
original productions. In September, Sky achieved a coup by poaching
Barry Norman from the BBC to host Sky Premier and compile exclusive
reports for Sky Movies.