What next for Sky News? Commercial director Cathryn Adams on Sleeping Giants, talent changes and growing audiences

Whether it’s drawing ire for Sky News After Dark or topping the subscription TV ratings with Paul Murray, Sky News is almost always in the headlines. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston speaks with commercial director Cathryn Adams about the Sleeping Giants’ campaign against the channel, its newest talent acquisitions and whether Sky News Business will return.

There have been plenty of big announcements out of Sky News over the past few weeks. Some of them good, like the addition of Peter Stefanovic to the lineup, an assortment of new programs and some big commercial partners – and some of them bad, like the loss of political editor David Speers to the ABC and the closure of its joint venture with Nine, Your Money.

But coming off the back of a successful Q1, commercial director Cathryn Adams is confident the channel is in the best position to jump into the latter half of 2019, bolstered by strong audience growth, the addition of new talent and some unconventional programming choices.

The Business of Sport

One of the new programs Sky News is bringing in for the latter half of 2019 is The Business of Sport, a show which looks at the technical and commercial side of the sporting industry. Tim Gilbert, ex-Today Show sports reporter and current Racing Dreams host, will be co-hosting alongside ex-Nine reporter and survivor of Jacketgate, Julie Snook.

The show has announced a number of commercial partners for its launch and Adams says they’ve been an integral part of delivering a high-quality product.

“The concept came forward about a year ago. Because we’re primarily a news and politics channel, something like this was a bit out of the box, but we could see a good opportunity to pull on the different facets of expertise inside Sky, like our analysis abilities. And because we produce Fox Sports News we’ve got some great avenues for the content. But we needed commercial partners to really get it off the ground and make it as good as it could be.”

The Business of Sport joins a new-look First Edition with Laura Jayes and newly added Peter Stefanovic, an extended AM Agenda with Keiran Gilbert and Annelise Nielsen and, in a new move for Sky, two documentaries. Lawyer X: The Untold Story and a two-parter, Bad Blood: Toppling Turnbull and New Blood: Morrison’s Miracle will air on the channel, the first hosted by Stefanovic and the second by outgoing political editor David Speers.

Peter Stefanovic and Laura Jayes

There’s also Business Weekend, hosted by former-Your Money host Ticky Fullerton alongside other Your Money staffers, Leo Shanahan and Chris Kohler. Despite the speculation that the dissolution of the joint venture between News Corp and Nine which turned Sky News Business into Your Money would result in the business channel being brought back under Sky control, Adams says there’s no plan for that to happen.

“We’re really ramping up our business coverage on the main channel. We’d already had the Business Weekend show in the works, which is great with Ticky, Leo and Chris, so there will be more of that and we’ll be doing more with them. But at this stage, I don’t know anything about dedicated business channel. I think we’ll just be dedicating more content to business news and reporting.”

A strong first quarter

As far as Sky News is concerned, things are going great. The channel is reporting big quarter-on-quarter growth and got off to a good start for 2019, Adams says.

“Our first quarter has given us our best primetime quarter delivery ever, our primetime audiences are up 6%, our share is up 18% and I think that in a climate where there is such competition between all the SVOD services and streaming services, it’s pretty encouraging for a news channel on Foxtel to be seeing that kind of growth.

“We’re hearing from our viewers what they want to see and we’re delivering in response to that which is what’s giving us such great results. Our all-day share is up 9% in Q1. We reached 2.8m Foxtel viewers alone and we’re on Sky News on WIN as well. So our reach is really exponential at this point.”

Partnering with News Corp

Earlier this year, Sky News owner News Corp announced Newsamp which closes the commercial loop between Sky News, News Corp and MCN. The division allows campaigns to be managed across all outlets, giving Sky News more commercial power.

Adams says the recent change in leadership has also helped in this space – The Australian’s editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker took up the helm in 2018 after longtime boss Angelos Frangopoulos moved to Sky News Arabia.

Since then there’s been growth in the content partnership team at Sky News, which was previously almost entirely managed by MCN, meaning an additional direct sales team, giving the channel three commercial avenues. The in-house team work very closely with editorial to ensure content is found which best suits the audiences.

Presumably, it’s working. Alongside The Business of Sport which will launch with three major commercial sponsors, Business Weekend is in partnership with Westpac. There’s also Innovation Forum which has seen several big brands come through, including Uber, Racing Dreams with New South Wales Racing, and Paul Murray’s Our Town series. The tour is only halfway through but has already been signed on to continue in 2020 and sees Murray travel around the country, supported by Harvey Norman, Sony, NAB and Australia Post.

Sleeping Giants

Sky News’ commercial partnerships is a contentious topic in 2019. The Twitter account Sleeping Giants has targeted the channel, particularly the infamous Sky News After Dark lineup, for what it believes is harmful right-wing content. A pinned tweet on the account has a list of advertisers for the channel and encourages followers to “@” them directly and implore the brands to pull their support. A current tweet is aimed at Red Bull, accusing the brand of supporting ‘racist, bigoted, sexist and climate denial agenda’.

When he spoke to the Mumbrellacast team, MCN CEO Mark Frain said it was concerning to him that one account, and a faceless one at that, could have such an effect on what is still a news channel, even if it may be one which often causes controversy. Adams doesn’t pull any punches when she addresses the topic.

“When Sleeping Giants emerged and they were driving such a hard campaign we did have a couple of advertisers asking questions and wondering why they were being targeted, but in the last few months, the majority of our partners have started to really see those people for who they are which is a small group of unverified yapping whingers who really only seem to value free speech as long as its their speech,” she says.

“Our success proves that Australian viewers really do love news, but they also love Sky News, they love what we’re doing and obviously we’re not going anywhere.

“Sleeping Giants want to be seen as targeting a big organisation, but when you break it down you notice that everyone who works here, we’re just normal people, we’re all really nice and we believe passionately in news and news coverage. It seems really disrespectful for someone who has nothing to do with it to threaten our livelihood, especially some of the younger people who work here, I find it actually quite shocking.

“I do believe in everyone’s right to have a say, whether you like it or hate it. It’s better to be informed, to get your news from a variety of sources, to get opinion from a variety of sources and to get an understanding of what Australian people really think.”


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