Prime’s losses are MediaWorks’ gains as Sky changes its free-to-air focus

From March, Prime News, which airs on Sky-owned Prime, will be produced by the MediaWorks news division at their Auckland Flower Street Studios as part of a new deal between the two networks.

This move—which marks the first time that MediaWorks has agreed to do the production for a show not in its programming lineup—will give the Prime News team access MediaWorks’ team of 200 local TV, radio and digital news staff, as well as foreign correspondents in Europe and Australia, marking a significant shift from what Sky chief executive John Fellet described as the “limited resources,” which the show’s current producers have had over the last eight years. 

“With the combined resources of TV, Radio and Digital news teams, we will have one of the biggest news operations in the country,” said the MediaWorks group head of news Mark Jennings in a release.

Prime will benefit from our size and reach and the calibre of our people. Our aim is to provide a high quality 5.30pm news programme that builds on the loyal Prime News following.”

Should this chunky news team successfully lift the viewership of Prime News then this could also prove profitable for MediaWorks, given that the network will also be selling advertising and sponsorship associated with the show.

Part of this deal is that MediaWorks will also be selling the advertising and sponsorship for Prime News, effective from Monday, 1 March,” says MediaWorks group head of revenue Liz Fraser. “We will be taking an innovative approach to advertising in the news environment – working with customers to strategically place campaigns between 5.30-6pm within Prime News and from 6pm in 3News.”

Sky also outsources the production of Backbenchers to TVNZ, but the government-backed network does not have the benefit of selling advertising or sponsorship around the show.      

As TVNZ’s media spokesperson Rachel Howard explains: “We purely produce the show [Backbenchers] for Prime and then it is theirs to sell around it however they choose to.” 

Sky’s director of comms Kirsty Way was asked for further details on the sales and advertising aspect of the partnership with MediaWorks, but she said “commercial deals are confidential” and that she was thus precluded from making any further comments in this regard.

When the deal with MediaWorks is viewed alongside today’s announcement that the new season of Top Gear would screen on TV3, it does appear that that Sky is making moves to cut costs associated with running Prime.

And although Way wouldn’t be drawn into admitting that this was a case of Sky tightening Prime’s belt, she did say that it was a difficult market.  

“There are a lot of free-to-air channels in this small NZ market, and it’s a challenging business,” she said. “It is a commercial decision [not to purchase the new season of Top Gear], but we hold onto past series for Prime and BBC Knowledge. Prime has opted to invest more in local documentary and factual series for 2015.”

As things stand at the moment, Sky only produces Crowd Goes Wild, its sports shows, 60 Minutes and sporting events. And Way says that none of these shows will be outsourced in the near future.

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