Satellite Watch

A new hybrid Sky channel is proving the multi-channel format can be a success if the quality is high enough

In November, a strange new satellite channel – Sky New Channels – appeared on BARB . The channel, tuned to one transponder, includes four channels beamed to all Sky Multichannel subscribers and two channels for Sky Sports subscribers, Sky Sports 2 and Sky Sports Gold.

What is surprising, is that in the last week of November, this hybrid took the sixth-biggest share of the satellite audience, beaten only by Sky’s Premium Movies and Sports channels, the Cartoon Network and Sky One. It took more viewing than UK Gold or Disney.

The channel is not easy viewing: it broadcasts at different times, the Sci-Fi, History, Sky Travel and Soap channels and switches sometimes to being a premium channel with Sky Sports 2 and Sky Sports Gold. Channel timing is not easy to remember, with Sky Sports Gold on-air on Monday to Wednesday only from 10pm to 1am and History on weekdays only from 4pm to 7pm. Viewing programmes on these channels calls for careful planning.

The biggest audience programmes on the channel are overflows from Sky Sports: in November a Premier League match between Coventry and QPR came top with more than 800,000 viewers on a Sunday afternoon, followed by over 600,000 who went on to watch a six o’clock Rangers versus Celtic match.

But excluding the two premium sports channels, the top five places in November on the “New Channels” channel went to the History and SciFi channels, with History taking three of the top five places.

In the second week of November the top programme on the channel, including those of the two sports channels, was Biography – with an audience of well over 100,000.

History’s Biography takes four of the top ten places on the New Channels rating table for November, excluding the two premium Sports Channels. Its popularity may be accounted for by the fact that its subject was Mike Tyson, not unfamiliar to the sports-loving Sky viewers. But the other three were George III, Michelangelo and Houdini – a much more esoteric mix.

What does this demonstrate? First, it shows that a hybrid channel can work in homes with dishes. If the programmes are good, they will find substantial audiences.

Second, it highlights the need for programme promotion: with out Sky Guide it is unlikely that the History Channel would have achieved half its actual audiences.

A comprehensive channel guide showing programmes by time, with information on those programmes, is essential in the cluttered satellite programme market.

And third, it shows that there is a market for niche programmes. The History Channel has made a positive entry into the market: and its progress will be watched with interest.

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