AGENDA: Empire building in the digital age - BSkyB is changing the focus of its marketing as it faces up to new multi-channel competition in digital TV. Elisabeth Murdoch spoke exclusively to Anne-Marie Crawford about Sky’s digital masterplan and

Elisabeth Murdoch, managing director of Sky Networks, takes another sip of Diet Coke and considers the question.

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

that demand.’

With that she offers to draw me a diagram of how the different parts of

the Sky empire fit together.

Radical shake-up

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,

Sue Hartley.

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.

Moving fast

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.’

she says.

’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.

Murdoch file

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 One

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.

Sky News

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

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

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.


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