Sky Arts goes free to take on faltering BBC

Sky Arts goes free to take on faltering BBC


norman lebrecht

September 16, 2020

Sky Arts is now available to watch on Freeview and Freesat on channel numbers 11 and 147.

This could be the first real arts challenge to the BBC since ITV closed down the South Bank Show.

Sky has announced four new programme commissions, among them:
Charles Hazlewood: Beethoven and Me: marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of
Ludwig Van Beethoven, Charles Hazlewood explores the life of the great composer, taking a
personal and unique perspective on this troubled genius and a detailed look at his famous
5th symphony masterpiece.



  • JB says:

    The Sky Arts classical content is sparse and typically on at 6.00am rather than peak evening slots. BBC 4 coverage is poor but is still better and televising live Proms is sufficient to make it much better than Sky Arts.
    Sky Arts used to be good – televising the Castorf RIng for example.

  • Gogglebox says:

    When I bombarded the BBC controllers with specific questions years ago about why there is no culture on TV, (opera, concerts, recitals) etc I got somewhat evasive replies, too expensive, no demand, we have to meet diverse audiences! The usual excuses.

    Then you find the talking head “picture frames” are getting salaries ranging from £200k-1m+, no wonder they have no money for the top end. They can supply soap operas to the masses, but real opera no.

    I would not hold your breath for the dirty digger channel, it has a lot of padding in it and I doubt my old Freeview telly could get 11/147. Any I have a pile of DVDs and VHS to watch anyway.

    • Allen says:

      “They can supply soap operas to the masses”

      Which purely commercial companies can do perfectly well, or even better. Coronation Street, the first really successful UK soap (I think I’m right in saying), is ITV not BBC.

      For many years I was under the impression that the purpose of public sector broadcasting was to produce important, niche, programming that is not commercially viable. The BBC now considers that approach elitist and undemocratic so it is spreading itself too thinly by trying to please everybody. However, the young audience that it craves is losing interest and those that are left are feeling neglected.

      The “no demand for opera” argument does not hold water. To some extent the BBC can create or increase demand. And I’m not arguing solely in favour of opera. I don’t see much jazz, big band or folk music on TV either. Perhaps I missed it.

      • Gogglebox says:

        Arse Enders and Holby are BBC soaps pal.

      • V. Lind says:

        I agree with what public television ought to provide, but don’t forget, they have been under financial constraints for many years now and urged to increase their non-licence-fee revenues (without advertising). As well as to up their viewership. They see the mass in the younger viewer, who they have indeed lost (as have their commercial opponents).

        I recently met a young film blogger, and he asked me to name my favourite films. Given his youth, I did not anticipate he would know many lesser-known films of my youth, so I stuck to bigger movies I regarded well, including The Godfather and Casablanca. Not only had he not seen them, he had not heard of them. Nor of Bogart nor Brando. This was a graduate student at university who thought he knew enough about film to write a blog. When I asked what he liked, he reeled off a slew of fantasy and horror films, the only genres with which he seemed familiar.

        So forget opera and concerts and ballet. This lot only know one thing when they hear the word “concert” — arenas. I’m sure they have no idea why soap operas include either word. Ballet? Perhaps some of the ludicrous contortions and variations on break dancing they see on BGT.

  • Dragonetti says:

    Typical! I recently signed up to Sky Arts as part of an add on package and now it’s free to view.
    However, I have to say that it’s a shadow of its former existence that I remember from the early 2000s. There are one or two decent concerts which mysteriously are broadcast from about 6-7:30 am that could easily be overlooked without dedicated scanning of the programme planner. Apart from that the general content isn’t going to cause any sleepless nights at the BBC. The best of BBC2 and BBC4 knocks it into a cocked hat. Of course if they are going to invest in it and produce some worthwhile new content then things might change. We’ll have to wait and see.

    • Gogglebox says:

      I boycott anything to do with the dirty digger. Hazelwood does not turn me on at all. I am sticking with my massive pile of opera DVDs, VHS etc.

      • Mark (London says:

        Hazelwood far better tha the pathetic ignorarumuses the BBC have used in last 10 years ! The Proms coverage and his documentaries were interesting and inciteful ! Of course he is a professional musician and what did we get after him .. Katie Derham and Petroc Trelawney.. says it all !

      • Tommy says:

        Sky is owned by Comcast, not Murdoch. Has been for a while.
        Enjoy your DVDs though.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        For every digger there’s somebody enjoying the fruits of that digging. It’s a two-way, symbiotic street. Were it not so lucrative who’d bother to do it?

    • V. Lind says:

      No chance. A network does not change its plan from subscription to free in order to spend MORE on it.

    • Herbie G says:

      So so right Dragonetti! There used to be two Sky Arts channels until a few years ago, with one of them focussing on serious content. Sky is now making its money with repeated adverts and repeated series, same again, same again, same again. The adverts are taking about a quarter to a third of the time on air. When they started in the UK they had little competition but now you can get all you really want on Freeview and Freesat. They get paid twice over – by the advertisers and the viewers who pay extortionate sums for this banal crap. For my part (and this is my personal view) the Sky Movies are dreadful and one can get far better from Talking Pictures, London Live and TLC – all free. The PBS channel has good documentaries and now the Smithsonian channel too.

      It looks to me like the classical recording industry; once the province of the huge companies of what is now the Polygram alliance, with a few small tiddlers (Saga etc) at their feet. Now it’s all in the hands of the independents (Chandos, cpo, Hyperion, Brilliant Classics, Naxos, Capriccio and dozens more).
      Someone told me recently that Sky is in trouble financially because more and more people are resorting to Netflix and the like and watching on their tablets and mobile phones. I wish I could believe it – can anyone verify or refute that?
      I must admit that I share the loathing of the digger; even though he does not own the outfit any longer, it’s still smeared with the ordure of his ethos.

  • Steve says:

    If you like André Rieu Sky Arts is the channel for you.

  • Tony Britten says:

    The best solution is to subscribe to my SVOD project: where you will find wonderful films and series from all round the world that neither the BBC or Sky Arts see fit to acquire. Or stick to the Proms and Andre Rieu.

    • Peter Kazaras says:

      Tony Britten: Interesting! Is this viewable in the U.S.? I cannot tell from the site.

    • david hilton says:

      Good luck with that, but I don’t think you’re going to find much interest from music lovers in still another subscription service. Everyone hates subscriptions. Turn your SVOD into a TVOD — a truly on demand service — like the Metropolitan Opera has done this summer with it’s solo recitals, and you’ll find that opera lovers in particular will pay far higher in order to see exactly what they want to see (instead of what you have ‘curated’ for them).

      • Tony Britten says:

        TVOD relies on an audience that is largely interested in star vehicles and requires a major institution such as the Met to drive it. The Arts Channel exists to serve arts and music lovers who are looking for a broader experience – and given the proliferation of materiel available, curation is a necessity. You say that ‘everyone hates subscriptions’ but whether it be the licence fee or a subscription, can you suggest how the programmes can be paid for without that income?

  • Dander says:

    Sky Arts on Channel 11 is complete shite. No classical stuff at all. I wish I could delete most of my freeview channels!


    Very little of interest in Sky Arts. In that way it balances out BBC4 rather well. Mainly pop (not knocking it, but not for me). Primarily focused on repeats of Tales of the Unexpected – so perhaps it should be re-branded AngliaArts?