BSkyB is to take on BBC Films and Channel 4's Film 4 by spending "several tens of millions" on trying to set itself up as a home for original British-made movies.
The satellite network, which has been criticised by the public service broadcasting sector for not investing more in British content, is planning a series of medium-budget, family-oriented British films which it will premiere on its Sky Movies channels. They will be Sky's first standalone feature films and will aim to build on the favourable reaction to its ambitious home-grown productions Treasure Island (starring Elijah Wood and Eddie Izzard) and Neverland (with Anna Friel and Bob Hoskins), which were both screened as mini-serials.
The strategy is designed to strengthen BSkyB's subscriber base and to help improve the company's reputation as a force for good in the British creative industries. BSkyB has been accused of caring only for the interests of its shareholders and not investing in the British television industry. The company has also been tainted by its association with its largest shareholder, News Corp, whose chairman, James Murdoch, resigned this week over the phone hacking scandal.
In a speech in Edinburgh two years ago the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, claimed that Sky was not spending enough of its profits on providing work for British programme makers. "It's time Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content," he told an audience of television executives.
Since then BSkyB has pledged to spend £600m on home-grown programming by 2014. The series of British feature films will have medium-sized budgets of around £5m. It is understood that at least two projects are already in production and are to be premiered next year.