Sky to invest in new family films for Sky Movies and feature docs for Sky Atlantic; company open to day and date releases on other platforms, including theatrical.

UK pay-TV kingpin Sky has announced a significant injection of funding for British TV features.

The investment will be channelled towards new films for family audiences on Sky Movies and new doc features on Sky Atlantic. The features will air from 2013.

The company has set up a dedicated, six-figure development fund to work across submissions for the family films, which if greenlit for production will have budgets “of around £5m” and premiere on Sky Movies.

Ian Lewis, director of Sky Movies, told Screen that the company could produce up to 5-6 films per year in a similar tone and scope to its recent TV films Treasure Island and Neverland, with the company also open to UK co-productions.

Sky head of drama Anne Mensah will oversee the development fund while Lewis said Sky “may add staff as the slate ramps up.”

Sky Atlantic HD will introduce a peak-time strand for documentaries in early 2013 with up to twelve documentaries on the new documentary slate. The company says it is sending its doc brief “to the world’s best documentary makers to come to the channel with bold ideas”.

On the documentary slate, Lewis said he hoped Sky could work with directors the calibre of Oscar-nominated Morgan Spurlock, who fronts Sky Atlantic’s Morgan Spurlock’s New Britannia.

Asked whether this funding injection was a stepping stone to investment in UK theatrical features, Lewis said: “As and when these films are made we would consider wider distribution and if we can find innovative partners these films could appear in cinemas at the same time they appear on Sky Movies, but we won’t invest our customers money in content they have to wait over a year to see. The windowing structure that exists in the theatrical industry at the moment is not one that works to the benefit our customers.”

Sky has long been under attack by sections of the UK film industry for a perceived lack of investment in the UK film industry.

This year’s Film Policy Review called for greater investment from the company and other UK broadcasters in British film production.

However, the company has made a commitment to increase investment in home-grown programming to £600 million by 2014, an increase of more than 50% over three years.

Jeremy Darroch, Sky’s chief executive, said: “We know British programming resonates strongly with our customers so we’ve been building our capability and credibility in this area over the last couple of years. I’m very encouraged by the progress we’ve achieved so far, particularly in original comedy and drama, but we’re only at the start and we’re determined to raise our ambitions again and keep improving.”

“We see a real opportunity in British films, where we’ve already invested millions in three feature-length productions with Sir David Attenborough. Now we intend to green light more family films for Sky customers and help more of the best documentary makers to bring the films they most want to make to the screen. This is an ambitious plan that will bring benefits to the wider creative industries as well as to Sky and our customers.”