Collaborative action over connectivity can provide boost for North, says Sky’s UK CEO

The chief executive of Sky in the UK says industry, Government and local councils need to work together to tackle “long known challenges” with the North’s transport system to increase the workforce catchment area.

Sky's UK CEO, Stephen van Rooyen. 11 June 2019. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Stephen van Rooyen said that investments by Channel 4 and Sky - which has 1,300 staff in Leeds - are making national policymakers aware of the North’s potential as a creative base.

He said: “If you look at what companies like Channel 4 have done, and what we’ve done, it’s becoming clear that a place to invest and a place to find great talent is....the North.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

He added: “The investment that we are making is based on the idea that we can find great talent and great opportunities here.”

Stephen van Rooyen. 11 June 2019. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“Regulators, politicians and policymakers are becoming increasingly aware of that, because the big companies they have relationships with and exposures to are announcing that they are making those sorts of investments.”

Mr van Rooyen made the comments when he visited Sky’s team in Leeds Dock to update them on developments within the firm.

Sky’s CEO for the UK and Ireland also participated in an evening of celebration of technological innovation in Leeds, which included a fireside chat with an invited audience.

Speaking before the event, he said: “We and others in the media industry, who look to this part of the country to become a creative hub, feel passionately about the connections between Manchester and Leeds and the reliability of the train service.

“These are long known challenges. Collectively industry, Government and councils need to work together to find ways to make sure that..connectivity can be improved so that the catchment area of the workforce in the North can become much better than it is today.”

In Leeds, around half of Sky’s staff are based in the tech hub at Leeds dock, and the others are based in a contact centre at Central Square.

The Leeds Dock team has been involved in the launch of Sky Q, the next generation TV platform, as well as Sky Mobile.

The team also leads on app development including the My Sky, Sky News, Sky Sports and Sky Kids app.

Sky is also working with Warp Films, which is based in Sheffield. Four of Sky’s shows are being shot in the North of England this year.

“Warp Films is a good example of a small production company that has the right combination of skills and talent,’’ said Mr van Rooyen.

He added: “More broadly, it’s not only the access to the talent it’s (about) the access to great sets and locations.

“Leeds is incredibly important for Sky,’’ he said. “Digital and the adoption of digital by our customers is an important part of the future of media consumption and Leeds is at the forefront of that.”

“We have ambitions to keep growing our business. One of the reasons we first set up here was because of the access to talent .

“We know that the number of creative industries that are re-locating or part locating here means there are going to be demands for more skills.”

He said Sky was helping more women gain roles in technology firms through its own training programme.

He added: “We help train them and put them into software academies.”

Mr van Rooyen added: “We’ve been investing in sites all around the country. We have never thought of ourselves as a business that is purely London centric. We are servicing all the regions and towns of the country because that is where our customers find themselves.

“It’s important for us that we keep doing that and we keep employing people across our sites.

He added: “There are great opportunities and more catchment (areas) for great employees, if you find yourself (based) across more of England, Scotland and Ireland and Wales.

“It’s important for us that we give back to the communities by helping to develop skills and property.

“ It’s really important to me personally that the infrastructure we are going to provide is good for our people and helps to attract people.

“If we can provide world class facilities, whether it be in London or Leeds, it will attract talent, it will retain talent and it will get the best out of talent.”

Sky’s base at Leeds Dock opened in late 2015 and has grown rapidly,

Sky’s team in Leeds is looking at using Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence to solve customer queries.

Sky has also announced plans for Sky Studios, a new Europe-wide development and production capability.

With the backing of new owners Comcast, Sky’s investment in original productions will more than double from the current level over the next five years.

Jeremy Darroch, group chief executive at Sky, said: “This is a transformational development for us. Sky Studios will drive our vision to be the leading force in European content development and production.

He added: “Our ambition is to make Sky Studios famous for quality content and a place where Europe’s top creatives will want to do their best work.”