Kay Burley has been in a sort of prolonged, self-inflicted lockdown. The veteran news anchor has spent the past six months suspended from her job at Sky News after breaking Covid guidelines at a Soho party with colleagues in December.
She is expected to re-emerge early next month with the biggest change in the TV news landscape since her own debut on the UK’s premier broadcast channel 32 years ago alongside Adam Boulton. GB News will launch on June 13.
Led by Chairman Andrew Neil, who hired Burley for Sky all these years ago, GB News aims to capture a portion of the public who he says are disillusioned with the options that exist. While much of the focus has been on a potential rivalry with the BBC, the newcomer is also asking questions for the future of Sky News, which is looking for an identity under a new owner.
The sale of Sky to Comcast three years ago both guaranteed Sky News’ financial future and cast doubt on its role. Under the influence of Rupert Murdoch, Sky’s largest shareholder until shortly before its £ 30 billion buyout by American cable colossus Comcast, he had always sought to innovate and challenge the BBC. Now, under the watchful eye of Comcast NBC’s media arm, which is rooted in American liberalism, there are questions about what makes Sky News distinctive.
“Sky is largely indistinguishable from the BBC,” says an industry source. “No wonder Rupert Murdoch calls it ‘BBC-Lite’.”
The original disruptor
When he started Sky News, Murdoch aimed to disrupt the BBC and strengthen his political influence. Aunt was forced to fight. In 1997, he launched the 24-hour news channel, BBC News 24.
Since then, Sky News has developed a reputation for high quality and innovative coverage, although it has always suffered losses and its survival has been threatened on several occasions. In 2018, as Murdoch made a second doomed bid for full control of Sky, then chief executive Jeremy Darroch signaled that the news channel would be shut down to seek regulatory approval for the takeover if necessary.
“It was more important in the overall mix of the company when we launched, in the early days,” he said. “There was a lot of brand presence. It was an area we could fit into. I wouldn’t describe Sky News as essential for the business today. “
In Comcast’s hands, the importance of Sky News – and its annual losses of £ 40million – to the company as a whole is a moot point. As part of his Sky takeover, he agreed to guarantee to bear those losses for at least a decade, as he sought to match the concessions that were ultimately offered by Murdoch.