Comcast-owned Sky has confirmed that Sky Arts, its premium arts channel, is to become a free-to-air network in the UK from September.
The channel will launch on Freeview with a mission to bring “more of the arts to more people.” The move comes in an environment in which the BBC is scaling back originals on BBC Four, which has traditionally been at the forefront of the BBC’s arts content.
Sky Arts is famous for shows including Portrait Artist Of The Year, fronted by Episodes star Stephen Mangan, and Melvyn Bragg-hosted The South Bank Show. It has an average monthly reach of 6.2M viewers.
As part of the free-to-air plans, Sky Arts has confirmed a raft of new shows, including Brian Johnson Meets Dave Grohl, a Somethin’ Else documentary in which the Foo Fighters and AC/DC frontmen hang out.
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Also on the agenda is Primal Media-produced Landmark, in which local communities across the UK come together to create a new UK landmark, and the previously announced Danny Dyer On Pinter from BBC Studios.
Sky Arts director Philip Edgar-Jones said: “There’s never been a stronger need or demand for the arts, nor a more important time to champion and celebrate creativity.
“That’s why we’re throwing open the doors to make Sky Arts a free channel. During lockdown we’ve seen audiences to the channel increase by 50% and our weekly live paint-along show, Portrait Artist Of The Week, reached 4.6 million people with over 20,000 portraits painted.”
“As a free to air channel I hope that Sky Arts can help arts organisations and cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes across the UK, providing them with a platform to create and showcase their work to a broad audience.”
As part of this commitment, Sky Arts will launch a series of bursaries worth £30,000 ($39,000) each, paring leading figures from the arts world with diverse and emerging new artists on a mentoring initiative.
Although the channel is moving out from behind the paywall, Sky Arts On Demand’s library of 2,000 hours of content will remain exclusive to Sky and NOW TV customers.