Antonia Hurford-Jones: What do women want on TV? Everything
One of Sky's senior executives runs a female friendly channel but knows women think out of the box. So, she's ditching the cliches...
Do women really, really only want to watch TV programmes about weddings, shoes, dating and dieting? Certainly not. Do they want to have "their" programmes flagged up by stereotypical pink logos? Certainly not. So the woman in charge of Sky's female-friendly channel Living is taking a brisk new approach and ditching the clichés.
Antonia Hurford-Jones, one of Sky's senior executives, sent her message to the television industry yesterday by announcing that the channel was ditching its sickly branding in order to challenge the jaded idea of the female viewer.
"We are getting rid of the pink, because it feels as though it's for little girls," said Hurford-Jones, channel director of Sky Living. "Living is a grown-up channel."
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Hurford-Jones said she wanted to move away from the notion that a female-orientated channel should be dominated by "those very traditional and slightly old-fashioned" subjects.
"We really need to broaden it out to fit with today's women, who have very broad interests," she said. "Just like men, we like lots of things – sport, politics, Homeland and Graham Norton."
Living will relaunch next month with a blue and silver livery and a slate of new programmes that include crime dramas, female-slanted comedies and a "lavish" remake of Bram Stoker's Dracula, produced by the makers of Downton Abbey and starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Research conducted with the channel's viewers (Hurford-Jones made some of the calls personally) revealed that the traditional pink branding could be a problem for women who wanted to watch shows with their partners. "We are moving away from pink literally as well as metaphorically," she said. "Pink ... could be a 'keep out' message for men – and for quite a lot of women as well."
Hurford-Jones, who has completed her first year in the job, said the channel's most successful show was Elementary, a crime drama inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories, which "skews perfectly" to a 60 per cent female audience. She believes that while men watch the series in a "comic book, geeky" way, piecing together the clues, women viewers tend to study the relationships between the characters.
Hurford-Jones said that shows on dieting were "not something I am going to go out and ask for", although if a format on losing weight was of high quality she would consider it. She also warned the television industry against seeing female channels as a dumping ground for cheap formats. "I use the word quality a lot, because I think there was a tendency for people not to use the same production values."
Appearing before delegates at the Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday, she appealed to production companies not to pitch "niche, girly" formats to her. "That not only alienates men but it alienates a lot of women, too." She said she was sent far too many programme ideas featuring "men with their tops off".
Anne Mensah, Sky's head of drama, was sent ideas for "girly drama" when Living has in fact commissioned a series of one-off productions that includes courtroom, supernatural and crime stories. One, Psychopath Next Door, stars Anna Friel.
The channel is also introducing a range of comedies including Doll and Em, a best-friends series starring Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells; Give Out Girls, showing the escapades of a promotions team; and Trying Again, a relationship sitcom starring Chris Addison and former EastEnders actress Jo Joyner, and created by Simon Blackwell, writer of The Thick of It.
Another Hurford-Jones commission is The Face, a modelling show which pits the "extraordinary and fabulous" Naomi Campbell against fellow catwalk stars Erin O'Connor and Caroline Winberg. Hurford-Jones said she was only interested in casting celebrities in shows if they were "credible and absolutely at the top of their game".
Although Living already broadcasts Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model, Hurford-Jones denied that she was putting pressure on women by obsessing over the fashion industry. "We know that modelling works for us and our customers love it," she said, comparing The Face to The Voice and The X Factor. "It's about people – it's not really about how people look," she said.
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