‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Riviera’ boost Sky as own takeover saga drags on

Hit shows such as ‘Game of Thrones’ boosted British broadcaster Sky’s first-half earnings by 10 percent. (Courtesy HBO)
Updated 25 January 2018
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‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Riviera’ boost Sky as own takeover saga drags on

LONDON: Hit shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Riviera” helped Sky deliver a 10 percent rise in first-half earnings, underscoring the appeal of the European pay-TV group to the US media companies trying to buy it.
Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox was provisionally blocked this week from buying the shares in Sky it does not already own, although there are options that would allow the $15.7 billion deal to do through.
Sky, whose customer base rose by 365,000 in the half to 22.9 million, could then be sold to Disney if a separate sale of Murdoch’s TV and film assets receives the green light.
The British broadcaster reported revenue of £6.7 billion (SR35.52 billion) for the six months to the end of December, up 5 percent year-on-year and in line with the first quarter, while core earnings rose to £1.1 billion.
“This performance reflects the investment choices we have made in recent years, allowing us to more than offset the pressure on consumer spending across Europe, as more customers continue to choose Sky for more of their services,” Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said.
The satellite-company, which operates in Italy, Germany and Austria as well as Britain and Ireland, said it would pay an interim dividend of 13.06 pence a share, on top of a special dividend of 10 pence, which UBS analysts said was a positive surprise.
Darroch said the company’s investment in original programming, such as dramas “Riviera” and “Tin Star,” drove viewing figures for Sky’s own channels up 6 percent.
“We have an exceptional line-up of acquired series, and when you add to that our own Sky Originals, it puts us in what I think is the strongest content position we’ve ever had,” he told reporters on Thursday.
The results come two days after Britain’s competition regulatory ruled that Fox’s bid to buy the 61 percent of Sky it does not already own was not in the public interest.
Murdoch, who also owns newspapers in Britain, now has to come up with an arrangement that will prevent him from influencing the news agenda at Sky, for instance by spinning off its Sky News channel.
Darroch said Sky, along with Fox, was focused on this media ownership hurdle after the competition regulator dismissed concerns about Murdoch’s commitment to broadcasting standards.
“We are very much focused in the process with the (regulator) CMA,” he told reporters.
“We have (media) plurality as the final issue to work though, (...) and we’ll see where that takes us.”
He would not comment on the company’s thinking about Sky News, saying any messages about the 24-hour service would be given directly to staff.
“We have got a day job to do,” he said. “And I think you can see from results and the plan we are laying out for 2018 we are not being distracted from any of that.”
Before the government gives its final decision on the Fox deal in June, Sky faces the next auction for English Premier League rights, the cornerstone of its offer to soccer fans.
Some of the pressure on Sky to pay huge sums to retain the biggest packages of games has been eased by a deal it struck with its biggest rival BT to supply channels on each other’s platform.
Darroch said he wouldn’t give a running commentary on the auction, adding Sky’s bid strategy was commercially sensitive.


Myanmar’s top court hears Reuters reporters’ appeal in official secrets case

Updated 26 March 2019
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Myanmar’s top court hears Reuters reporters’ appeal in official secrets case

  • Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017
  • A judge found the two guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison

NAYPYITAW: Myanmar’s Supreme Court heard the appeal on Tuesday of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, in a case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy.
Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017, while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslim civilians involving Myanmar soldiers.
A judge found the two guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison.
Both remain separated from their young daughters. The wife of 32-year-old Wa Lone gave birth to their first child last year while Wa Lone was behind bars. Kyaw Soe Oo celebrated his 29th birthday in Yangon’s Insein jail this month.
“We are expecting to reunite as a family as soon as possible,” Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, told reporters outside the Supreme Court compound in the capital, Naypyitaw, after Tuesday’s hearing. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not attend.
The reporters’ convictions were heavily criticized by press freedom advocates and Western diplomats, putting additional pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who took power in 2016 amid a transition from military rule.
Suu Kyi said in September, the week after their conviction, that the reporters’ case had nothing to do with press freedom as the men had been jailed for handling official secrets, not because they were journalists.
“Myanmar’s Supreme Court has the opportunity to correct the serious miscarriage of justice inflicted on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for the last 15 months,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.
“They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency.”
Outlining their grounds of appeal, the reporters’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that the pair were set up by police.
After government law officer Ko Maung responded, Justice Soe Naing adjourned the case without giving a date for a ruling.
During eight months of hearings, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12, 2017. Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers.
A police captain testified that, prior to the restaurant meeting, a senior officer had ordered subordinates to plant documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.
The prosecution said the reporters were caught holding secret documents at a routine traffic stop.
The high court in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon rejected an earlier appeal in January.
Before their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations estimates.