The Guardian are reporting that Sky are launching a new subscription channel called Sky Atlantic, which will be home to many of their US purchases. It will be available to subscribers of Sky's £19 per month "Variety Pack", and is set to launch next year.
Sky Atlantic HD's lineup of US drama is enviable: Boardwalk Empire (February 2011), Treme (April 2011), Mad Men (which it has successfully outbid the BBC for), David Milch's upcoming horse-racing drama Luck (starring Dustin Hoffman), Kate Winslet-starring Mildred Pearce (March 2011), fantasy epic Game Of Thrones (April 2011), and future seasons of Big Love and Entourage. They also have the repeat rights to previous seasons of Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and The Pacific.
I have to say, this is going to cause ructions if you don't have Sky. The broadcaster has played a devious hand here, you have to admit. Having recently agreed to give Virgin Media carriage rights to Sky1 and Sky1 HD, as part-exchange for the £150m purchase of Virgin-owned channels (Bravo, Virgin1/Channel One, Living, Challenge), they've now closed Bravo and Channel One because they're rivals, nabbed exclusive UK rights to HBO's content for £150m, then created a whole new channel full of shows Virgin subscribers would have expected to air on Sky1.
Sky haven't announced if Sky Atlantic will be made available to Virgin Media or BT Vision customers (maybe as part of their Sky Premium package that includes some Sport and Movie channels), but I doubt it. I get the feeling Sky have played a blinder here; outmaneuvering Virgin Media by shifting the goal posts.
Oh well. You have to applaud the Machiavellian scheming on display. As a Virgin Media subscriber, I'll have to get hold of those US dramas some other way. I'm certainly not going to defect to Sky, even if those dramas start to arrive more quickly next year. 5 months waiting for Boardwalk Empire? No thanks.