Media Headliner: The 'veteran' leading Sky to forefront of digital

Industry insiders say forward thinker Paul Wright is the perfect person to drive Sky's online offering, Danielle Long writes.

When Paul Wright left a "nice safe banking job" in 1988 to join a new television platform called Sky, people thought he was mad.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years and Wright is back at Sky. He has just been appointed to the new role of director of sales for Sky Digital Media, a position that is central to Sky's attempts to build its web and cross-media offer.

Sky has just launched a division called the Online Business Unit, and has charged Wright with leading its first dedicated digital sales team. Wright will eventually report to Andy Jonesco, the former AOL managing director and the new managing director of the OBU, to develop web propositions and exploit the commercial opportunities of online, mobile and cross-media advertising. Jonesco is completing his gardening leave and is expected to join Sky over the coming months.

As an online veteran, Wright is described as "a sharp, forward thinker", with an intuitive ability to identify growth areas and exploit them. Robin O'Neill, the head of online trading for Group M, says: "He's been in the digital industry longer than most and he's perfectly placed for this role. He'll bring a lot of forward thinking to Sky."

Wright is Sky Media's prodigal son. He spent 11 years within Sky sales, seven in TV sales, before he was appointed commercial manager across broadcast sponsorship, promotion and the internet. Despite being made the head of interactive sales in 1999, the lure of the dotcom boom proved irresistible and he joined the sports website Wright was riding the dotcom wave as the group sales and marketing director site when, on the first day of the 2002 World Cup, just after Senegal crushed France in the tournament opener, went bust.

He was down, but not out, and within two months had grouped together some former colleagues to launch an online sales house, Aura Sports, which sold space on Premier League football club sites. Wright sold the business to Sky in 2006 and returned to the broadcaster just as its digital business was starting to gather momentum.

"I really didn't expect to end up back here," Wright admits. "But it is a really good opportunity. When I left Sky, the focus was all about launching the digital platforms and now that this has happened, the focus on driving it forward is very strong."

With Wright and Jonesco on board, Sky is keen to show it is serious about digital. With 185 websites, Sky is already a top-ten provider based on reach of internet users, and has 233,000 mobile TV subscribers. It recently acquired the online sales group 365 Media, adding more websites to its growing portfolio, which includes sales for the likes of and

Last December, Sky signed a deal with Google, that will involve the search giant providing e-mail, search and instant messaging for its portal, The portal is central to Sky's digital push, along with a social network platform, Skycast, which is currently operating in Beta format. Skycast aims to create communities around themes and areas of interest, which link to Sky content such as football and sports.

Industry observers believe it's no surprise that Sky is banking its digital future on its content. In this area, it has an edge over its portal rivals such as Yahoo! and MSN. Wright's division will be tasked with developing an advertising model for all this.

Wright says: "Video is something we are taking very seriously. There are a lot of advertisers that are interested in video, but there's a lot of video out there that advertisers don't want to get involved with. The key strength for Sky is that we have quality content and audiences; if we put a video on our sites we will get an audience.

"The challenge for us is getting the whole thing together, we have a core team and we are adding to that. We are only in the first phase, which is building the structure. We want to build a sales house that can work across online, mobile and TV - a multichannel sales house. With the development of the portal going forward, we will have even more opportunities."

But negotiating these new waters brings new challenges, and Sky is hoping it can lead the market and establish industry standards for new areas such as video ad formats and rates.

Wright says: "Advertisers have got to understand that video advertising requires different approaches for different platforms. We know that users will accept pre-roll advertising, but 30 seconds is far too long on a PC screen, users will not accept it. For online it has to be ten to 15 seconds maximum, while mobile is five seconds. I don't think you can do any longer than that."

He says that there is still work to do on putting a value on some of this: "At the moment, there are no ratecards for video and no-one knows what the model should be. It is very different to TV and is more targeted and has more value than banners or skyscrapers. What the rate should be has yet to be determined, but should depend on audience share and demand as with any other media."

The industry believes that Sky's model will be the one to watch. Kirsti Wilson, the managing director of, says: "Sky has the potential to create the key metrics for how to sell in this new market. Paul is the perfect person to transform Sky online, and build it up to where it needs to be over the next five years."

Age: 41
Lives: Acton, West London
Family: Wife, Amanda, children Adam, nine, and Amy, seven
Most treasured possession: My collection of iPods (four), plus my less
portable music collection
Interests outside work: Music, film and trying to learn the guitar
Favourite website: Too many to mention but because it feeds
my music addiction
Favourite TV programme: 24
Favourite ad: Carlsberg's "probably the best pub team in the world" for
the 2006 World Cup
Motto: "Just do it"