Sky chiefs can look back on 1996 as a watershed. The company was
rarely out of the headlines and, while it wasn’t always good news, Sky
left the competition floundering in its wake.
For a company only seven years old, Sky displays all the hallmarks of a
mature operation, leading the field in developments across the
broadcasting industry and setting the pace for others. New channels,
pay-per-view, preparations for digital broadcasting and increased
UK-originated programming all helped to earn Sky Campaign’s Medium of
the Year award,
Sky is changing the way we use television. By the end of 1996, it had 12
channels, seven joint venture channels with Granada Television, and Sky
Scottish in association with STV. Almost six million households across
the UK had access to Sky by the close of the year and, more importantly,
viewing levels were at a record high for the medium. March 1996 saw
satellite TV overtake Channel 4’s share of viewing for the first time
By August, satellite had notched up a record share of 11.7 per cent,
ahead of BBC 2.
Sky’s programming also continued to develop beyond cheap US import
fodder to include first runs of cult serials such as the X-Files and
Murder One, before their transfer to terrestrial channels. In addition,
the company renewed its exclusive live rights to the Premier League,
signed a five-year deal with the Rugby Union and commissioned its first
soap drama, Springhill.
But it was Sky’s decision to leap into a new method of programme
delivery - pay-per-view - that really marked the company out as an
In March, more than 660,000 subscribers paid at least pounds 9.99 to see
Mike Tyson battling Frank Bruno for the world heavyweight title - the
UK’s first venture into this type of broadcasting.
More than 430,000 people paid up to see Sky’s second foray into this
field - Tyson versus Holyfield, despite the lack of a national
Another broadcasting development - digital television - also propelled
Sky into the headlines last year, even though digital is not expected to
launch until later in 1997. Such is Sky’s determination to move swiftly
into the next era of broadcasting, embracing digital and delivering it
to viewers ahead of its competitors, that rivals already fear a Sky
stranglehold on digital technology.
Being determined, forward-thinking and ambitious was never guaranteed to
But it could well be Sky’s fledgling alliance with BT, through its deal
last year with MCI, the US telecoms giant, that is the company’s most
significant leap towards the future.
The coming together of TV programming, distribution and
telecommunications under the steer of these two giants could ensure
Sky’s dominance for the 21st century.
Of course, Sky has made enemies along the way, notably the cable
operators, who have complained loudly about the way Sky packages its
channels for cable subscribers. And when it comes to handling the
advertising industry, there’s still a feeling among media buyers that
advertisers are not top of Sky’s list of priorities. But for all its
lack of sensitivity, Sky has forced moribund competitors to rethink
their own strategies and start shaping up for the next broadcasting
Talking of lack of sensitivity, IPC’s Loaded magazine was runner-up in
the Medium of the Year category. Last year was very good by Loaded
James Brown, the editor, was voted the British Society of Magazine
Editors’ Editor of the Year for the second year running, while Michael
Holden, a feature writer, was Young Journalist of the Year.
Yet 1996 was about more than winning awards, it was about proving people
wrong. When Loaded launched in April 1994, it was dismissed as a
one-year (if that) wonder. Circulation for the first issue was just
67,000 but by the end of 1996 sales were nudging 300,000 according to
Advertisers who were slow to embrace the ’bad lads’ environment were
soon convinced by its rising circulation, with mainstream brands such as
HP Sauce advertising on a poster of a bacon sandwich. Loaded has
revolutionised the men’s magazine sector and, while many publications
have attempted to mimic its in-yer-face, devil-may-care attitude, the
original is still the best.
Loaded has set the agenda in its marketplace, forcing rivals to consider
the babes/sex issue, particularly on their front covers, no matter what
the content of the inside pages. FHM, relaunched this year as a Loaded
clone, has also been a big success. And launch after launch is described
as a ’Loaded for ...’ In short, Loaded can be seen as a media and
An honourable mention must also go to the Guardian, which has probably
had the busiest year of all the daily broadsheet newspapers, making
strides in everything from the Phoenix Festival to teaching MPs a lesson
about taking cash for questions.
Having managed to ride out the worst of the price-cutting wars in
previous years, 1996 saw the Guardian hold firm, making small but
significant circulation gains, finishing the year above the crucial
Brand development managed to keep the paper ahead of the
In 1996, the Guardian launched a 24-page Friday sport tabloid, Sport
’96, carried out a much-needed revamp of the Saturday Guardian and
launched the highly rated Guardian Guide nationally. Despite these many
changes, the Guardian remained a touchstone for quality.
Recent winners: Daily Mail (1995); Classic FM (1994); Channel 4 (1993);
the Guardian (1992).