Sky Arts to offer free-to-access programmes

The channel, which is reportedly considering a free-to-air move this autumn, is to offer a number of freebies from Friday:

Among the freebies is Portrait Artist of the Year, which has been transformed into a free, weekly format for the Sky TV Facebook page.

Portrait Artist of the Week will see celebrity sitters pose live in their own homes, with audiences invited to paint along at home – wherever in the world they are based. First to pose is dancer and choreographer Akram Khan, sitting for viewers for a four-hour session from 10am on Sunday 26th April. He will be painted live by Christabel Blackburn (winner of this year’s series of Portrait Artist of the Year that aired in March), who, from her own home, will provide tips and interact in real-time with those who are painting along.

Regular presenter Joan Bakewell will host, while members of the public will be invited to post questions to get advice as they paint. The public can submit their final paintings via Instagram (@artistoftheyear) with the show’s judges, Tai Shan Schierenberg, Kathleen Soriano, and Kate Bryan, highlighting their favourites.

The programme will run every Sunday for four weeks and feature other celebrity sitters, with previous series winners taking turns to paint live and help viewers at home participate. Each episode will be available to watch online throughout the week so more people can participate, and a highlights programme will be shown on Sky Arts.

Free content via YouTube

Sky Arts reports a 55% increase in viewing since lockdown measures were introduced.

In what it says is a "recognition of the clear demand for culture at home", the channel will start to make a raft of Sky Arts content available to audiences to stream for free on the Sky TV YouTube channel from this Friday 24th April.

The weekly package will include performances, concerts and documentaries from the channel’s substantial back catalogue of award-winning arts content – all of which will be available for a limited period.

Highlights will include episodes of

  • Celebrity Portrait Artist of the Year, 
  • Treasures of the British Library, 
  • Mystery of the Lost Paintings, and 
  • concerts from Queen, The Bee Gees, Shania Twain and Take That.

Philip Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, said:
Our mission at Sky Arts is to make the arts more accessible, support practitioners, and get more people participating and making stuff. So with Portrait Artist of the Week and our new free YouTube collection we’re hoping to get people joining in whether it’s painting a portrait, immersing yourself in a journey into an artist’s life, or enjoying a classic rock concert in your living room. Right now, we need a fix of culture more than ever and this is just the tonic.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Sky Arts was planning a launch on Freeview - the second time such a launch has been mooted in the media. Nothing concrete has yet been confirmed. The move is linked to Sky currently pushing its public service credentials in light of an Ofcom review of public service broadcasting in the UK.