As part of our latest MHP Mischief Media Network bulletin, Ian tells MHP how Sky News reaches a global audience and advises on how CEOs make for the perfect guest.
What do you think the big stories in the coming year for your audience?
It’s hard to get away from the war in Ukraine – which I suspect will drag on for months on end – and rising inflation and the cost of living crisis. Clearly the latter is in part a result of the former but there are other factors as well. It will have lots of interesting strands following on from that. One possible one is a rise in industrial unrest as workers react to the fact that wages are not rising as rapidly as inflation.
Another knock-on from the inflation story is the tightening of monetary policy from the likes of the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve and, who knows, maybe even the European Central Bank. The story of how consumers respond to that is going to be absolutely fascinating as it unfolds this year. If you assume the age of a typical first time buyer in 2009 was 30 – it was probably actually higher than that – then it means any homeowner under the age of 43 has never known a time when interest rates were not close to zero. It is going to be a really interesting experiment in consumer psychology.
At a macro level I am also going to be very interested to see how households and businesses adapt to the recent increases in National Insurance – whether, for example, it puts a dampener on what is really quite a hot labour market. I wrote a column for The Times recently speculating that the pendulum was going to swing back from capital to labour in a way it has not for the last four decades or so. It will all make for a busy time.
How would you describe the appetite for business news on television?
Very strong indeed. Our audience numbers went through the roof at the outset of the pandemic, which was why Sky News increased our on-air time significantly at that time. Although the numbers have come off the boil a bit, now that life is returning to normal, there is clearly still lots of interest in business news. Business, markets and economics have been a key strand of the Ukraine story and that will continue to be the case.
But I also detect a greater interest in investing, too, particularly among younger viewers, listeners and readers. I use those latter terms deliberately because what the business team does at Sky News is not confined to TV. Our digital platforms and other services, such as podcasts, all generate big audience numbers.
We look to attract a UK audience of 10 million across our platforms – don’t forget we’re on in 120-odd countries worldwide – and it has been appreciably higher than that in recent times.
What makes the ideal story for your show?
Nothing is off-limits. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something involving a familiar brand although obviously that will draw viewers in. We have deliberately done a lot on the tech sector and related areas where innovation is happening, such as life sciences, because me and my colleagues took the view several years ago that these were going to be the sectors delivering the most growth for the UK economy in this next decade and so it was worth focusing on those.
But there are other big themes – the transition to net zero, electrification and so on – that we also take a great deal of interest. So anything featuring innovation. And we are a global programme – we’ve lots of viewers in the Middle East and Africa in particular and so I am keen on doing things concerning those regions.
And personally I am very interested in stories around investment and pensions and so we look for stories from those sectors and around associated areas like infrastructure too.
What do you look for in a guest?
I like to talk to CEOs in particular because these are people at the coalface of business – and generally can offer very good insights as to what is happening in their business, sector and often with a read-across to the broader economy. I like to talk to market participants and investors.
And we love – see above – getting VCs and founders on because these are the people driving real innovation in the economy and creating wealth. The latter also tend to be younger and often more diverse, too, which helps reinforce the message that business, economics and markets news is for everyone and not just a certain demographic.
Basically I take the view that if I am going to find a guest or a story interesting, then the viewers, listeners and readers will too. And, of course, vice versa.
What’s the best way for a company with a story to tell to engage with the show?
Contact our senior producer, Piers Wisbey, or Kirsty Hickey, who deputises for him. Or me (by email please, otherwise the phone would ring off the hook). I’d rather hear about something than not hear about it and rest assured every email is read – albeit not always responded to.