22 May 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Sky’s MD of Content Gary Davey at IFTA TV Lecture Series: “World class content comes from the bottom up”
18 Feb 2016 : Seán Brosnan
Sky MD of Content Gary Davey speaking at the IFTA Television Lecture Series event
The IFTA Television Lecture Series today introduced Sky Managing Director of Content Gary Davey to the Shelbourne Hotel, who spoke about Sky’s ongoing commitment to original content as well as outlining how exactly producers can rise to the top of the 2000+ pitches Sky receives every year.

The event, part of IFTA’s ongoing Television Lecture Series, was attended by many notable industry figures such as Irish Film Board CEO James Hickey, Larry Bass of ShinAwil, Audrey Shiels of Element Distribution, Stuart Switzer of Coco Television, Rebecca O’Flanagan of Treasure Entertainment and Tristan Orpen Lynch of Subotica Films to name but a few.

Introduced by IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty, Davey spoke of the success of Irish shows such as ‘Moone Boy’ and ’50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy’ on Sky 1 – both of which won the International Emmy Award, and IFTA, in recent years.

“If you think of ‘Moone Boy’ and ’50 Ways’, they are kind of emblematic of what Sky is looking for,” said Davey, who was Managing Director of Sky when it was launched in May 1989 and who has been MD of Content since last year." We want content a little bit off mainstream, fresh ideas that are going to get noticed. We love working with people like Baz and Nancy Ashmawy as well as Chris O’Dowd."

Davey goes on to describe Sky Atlantic as their “primary big drama platform” stating that Sky 1 and Sky Living are “milder and more procedural”. Cementing Sky’s appetite for world class content, Davey said that Sky spends over €7bn every year on content but added that producing their own material has become an important agenda for the team.

“Increasingly, we have got a very big commitment to our original material”, said Davey. “ I like the idea of leaving something behind. We think when approaching the material – what can we leave behind here that goes beyond video?”

Davey states that despite receiving over 2000 pitches a year, Sky has devised a system so that every idea gets looked at.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is managing this process carefully. Your job as producers is to get our attention. The exciting thing for us is that we never know where the next great idea will come from. I just know it won’t come from me!”

Their commitment to original content has come to fruition in the past few years, with dramas such as ‘Fortitude’ (starring Richard Dormer), ‘Stan Lee’s Lucky Man’ (starring James Nesbitt) and ‘Penny Dreadful’ (shot in Ardmore Studios) all proving hits internationally. Davey says that Sky currently has six shows showing on major US channels at Prime time and wants to “double that number in the next few years”. They also have 18 returning series this year to their channels including both comedy and drama.

Re-iterating his point that good ideas can come from anywhere, Davey told a story about Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino deciding on making a move into television. His idea was called ‘The Young Pope’ which Sky originally funded with a small sum of money. The idea has since grown into a major international co-production with HBO with the eight part series (starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton) scheduled to be broadcast later this year.

“That show is a great example of something that started out small but proves that world class content comes from the bottom up.”, said Davey.

When asked the question of what Davey expects from Irish producers, Davey stated that Irish storytelling has a glittering reputation in the UK.

“I think Ireland has always proved itself to be very capable in delivering great storytellers. The last five years has seen some very successful storytelling come out of Ireland and some of it quite challenging. A project like ‘Vikings’, which I love by the way, is a really challenging story and epic in its’ production. We have no doubt that Ireland has the right kind of resources terms of development and writing and we are in conversations about a few projects here which we are very enthusiastic about.”

Speaking after the lecture, IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty said, “Gary Davey delivered an inspiring IFTA Television lecture; insightful, engaging, and really connecting with the Irish producers at the event. Looking forward to more Irish projects coming on screen with Sky – they certainly have the vision and the budgets to match!”.

Larry Bass of ShinAwil (‘The Voice of Ireland, ‘Bressie’s Teenage Kicks’), said: “It was great to attend a talk with one of the true visionaries of World Television in Dublin, thank you to IFTA for inviting Gary Davey.”

Producer John Kelleher (‘The Guarantee’) said: “'Thanks, IFTA. Gary Davey's presentation was really informative - interesting, succinct and relevant.”

Stuart Switzer, CEO of Coco Television (‘1916: The Irish Rebellion’) said: “What a great event with Gary Davey MD of content with Sky. Lots of Irish producers leaning forward to make sure not to miss a word of Gary’s lecture, a fascinating man, with the added bonus of millions to potentially spend on creative Irish content.”

Audrey Sheils of Element Distribution (‘Room’, ‘The Lobster’) said: “Gary’s insight into where and how audiences are consuming content across Europe was very informative, and then coupled with his knowledge of the US market made for a very interesting talk.”

Tristan Orpan Lynch (‘Miss Julie’, ‘Unless’) said: “A very insightful presentation, to see the scale of the Sky organisation and it's huge output but with a continuing ambition to grow its quality content while remaining accessible to and supporting the independent producers. They clearly recognise that "new ideas" come externally from the independent producers and are in a position to engage fully, and to invest strongly, to back the sector.”

Media Lawyer Andrea Martin said: “Gary Davey's statement that Sky is ramping up investment in content production is heartening news for Irish producers. Davey made it clear he sees Ireland as a source of great on-screen storytelling. It stimulated the imagination to hear him call for Sky Arts content that will 'leave something behind beyond the video'. An encouraging IFTA session and opportunity to connect with a serious future player in the commissioning market in Ireland.”

Producer Redmond Morris (‘Byzantium’, ‘The Reader’) said: “It was an enlightening presentation as to the opportunities offered by Sky to the Independent Producer particularly in the dramatic field”.

Jacqueline Kerrin of Ripple World Pictures (‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’, 'Moon Dogs’) said: “Great event – it is very inspiring to hear Sky’s commitment to the Irish market.”

Kerrin’s sentiments were echoed by Catherine Magee, producer of recent RTÉ hit ‘Rebellion’: “It’s very interesting to see the commitment Sky has to drama. I particularly like their vision of building drama from the ground up whilst also having the ambition to upscale it – to recognize that really good stories can travel internationally. Even if they begin locally, good dramas can have international appeal if they have really good characters and a compelling story.”

Rachel Lysaght of Underground Films (‘One Million Dubliners’, ‘Patrick’s Day’) said: “I really like Sky’s idea of leaving something concrete behind - that idea of legacy and the concept that television is now something much more than just audio-visual. It is something that can possibly affect change and is more than just entertainment.”

For more information on IFTA events, visit www.ifta.ie.

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