As it moves into production, Screen talks to Sky Movies head Ian Lewis about the company’s varied innovations.

British producers may have to find a new punch bag. After years of industry calls for pay-TV giant BSkyB to invest in local film production in the UK, the company has been able to quiet its critics by announcing in April that it would make a multi-million pound investment in family films and feature documentaries.

What’s more, Sky’s support of the local industry is not just about production, argues Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies. “We have been a little bit frustrated by the call for us to start investing in British film, because frankly we’ve been doing that. A huge proportion of the films that we license every year are either made in Britain or run and owned by a British company. There isn’t a single organisation that’s invested as much in films as we have over the last 20 years… It’s just that we’ve chosen to do it by the licensing route rather than the production route.”

Lewis says that moving into more production now is intended to make “our content composition better and better for our customers… I want to make sure we can offer special content to our customers.” Sky customers “want to watch films together and particularly as family units”, he adds.

No projects have been greenlit yet but Lewis hopes to confirm at least two by the end of the year. The family films the company will pursue will be mostly about “escapism and adventure, whether that is magic or mystery or sci-fi”. Remakes or adaptations will be considered (the company backed two-part Peter Pan prequel Neverland in 2011).

‘There will be some films which we may have said no to in the past, that we now feel are important for certain audience groups’

Ian Lewis, Sky Movies

There is a different kind of adventure on display this month as the James Bond channel is launched on Sky Movies.

Lewis explains that offering franchises such as Bond (or previously Star Wars, Shrek or Indiana Jones) is an obvious draw for the company: “We do our best to bring our customers the very best of new films, whether that’s from the big studios or the smaller independents. But we are acutely aware that older films are just as valuable for many of our customers. We have to set out with an agenda to secure as many of these franchises and bring them to our customers whenever we can.”

Sky Movies 007 HD, the first dedicated franchise channel, launches on October 5 as Skyfall prepares to hit cinemas and the series celebrates its 50th year. It will run for a month as a linear channel - and with the films on demand - and will then be brought back occasionally in 2013.

Securing franchises is only one piece of the puzzle. Sky has output deals with all six US majors, including a newly revamped and expanded pact with Warner Bros.

Each of those deals is different and is up for renewal at various times. “For every one of these deals, a studio will absolutely be looking to get the best return for their business that they can. It’s a very competitive market out there and I think the job for Sky is twofold - to make sure we can match the commercial expectations of the big studios or any independent but also that we’re a very good home and a very good partner. We need to demonstrate to our partners that we’re the best place for them to work with in the UK.”

Subscriber choice

With new competition from the likes of Netflix and a growing LoveFilm, Sky has held its ground. “In the last couple of years we have put so many innovations into the market and made the service that much better for subscribers. Whether that was when we first launched HD, we’ve done 3D, we’ve had On Demand, we’ve had On The Go, we make our content discovery better through various devices, through the website, through the movies app - whatever it is.”

On demand is of particular importance as customers move away from linear channels. And as offerings are diversified across media, that could trigger Sky to acquire different kinds of content. “We now think of each and every one of the devices and how they come from the different types of customers that we have. And that means there will be some films which perhaps we may have said no to in the past, that we now feel are more important for certain audience groups.”