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Evolve Investor Ambassador: Sky Ventures’ James McClurg

Led by Creative England in partnership with the BFI and UKBAA, Evolve is a programme designed to build a connected ecosystem of investors in the UK’s innovative media and entertainment sectors. As part of Evolve, we are highlighting leading industry investors to help provide a bit of insight into what it looks like to invest in screen-based businesses. We sat down with James McClurg, Director, Startup Investments & Partnerships, Sky (Venture Capital) to find out a little bit more about thriving businesses in the creative industries.

“Thinking of the next five years, investors should have the creative industries in their portfolio to capture one of the biggest and most exciting sectors. The blend between technology and creativity is definitely getting there and the increasing direct interactivity between people and content will continue to be a driver of exciting new opportunities in the media space – be that voice, interactive content and perhaps AR/VR.”

James McClurg started his career at Deloitte in London where he worked in the M&A and Strategy teams. Working across multiple industries, including both public and private sectors, James discovered that his passion lay in the creative sector and in venture capital. After leaving Deloitte, James moved into venture capital working for a small London VC firm with a broad investment portfolio.

When a role at Sky came up, James knew that he would be able to realise his ambition of working in the creative and media sector. Heading up Sky’s Startup Investment and Partnerships team since 2013, James’ job is to engage the media industry with startups to both invest and partner. Explaining Sky’s approach to investing James shares:

“At Sky we engage with startups in two ways; to bring new products or services to our customers, or to make us more efficient in terms of our operations. My role is to make sure we’re tapping into some of the best leading-edge and early-stage private sector companies out there, and to make sure that we’re not doing everything in house. We’re not just dealing with the large incumbents, we’re working with some of the best companies that are leading an industry, even if they’re smaller in size it doesn’t mean they can’t be the best in the industry. Anything that enhances our core – which could be TV, mobile, and broadband – is always interesting to us. That can be consumer-facing or that can be our operations that underlie that. We’ve invested in companies like Roku, we rebranded their hardware to support our launch of NOW TV.”

With entertainment platforms looking for new ways to engage with consumers, particularly during the global pandemic, Sky has been exploring interactive content.

“On the other side of things from a consumer, or content point of view, we more recently invested in a company called Flavourworks that are based out of London, and they create interactive drama series. The consumer watches the drama play out and they can influence what happens to the characters. It’s almost like an immersive theatre experience, but you can bring it into your home.”

Since March, more people have been at home due to the pandemic, which has resulted in more television being consumed both through traditional mediums and via digital platforms. Discussing his observations James says:

“More people are watching more at home so there’s definitely opportunity for companies that are wanting to produce and deliver content direct to the home, and we can help do that. We’ll continue to do more exciting things in our platform. For example, we brought FiiT (a fitness experience), Highbrow (an education experience) and PlayWorks (a gaming experience) to our customers on our platform – all in the last few months.”

When identifying potential investment opportunities, James emphasises that the key question is what could Sky and a company they are potentially interested in investing in do together? They would then vet the company for opportunities and potential fit, taking into account the team and the technology they have on offer. Sky also considers why it makes sense to be tied to a company from an equity point of view.

“If we’re going to work with some earlier stage businesses, we want to make sure the business has enough capital to see through our partnership and development together. We might also say it makes sense for us to invest because whilst they have lots of expertise around the technology, we actually bring a lot in terms of what it means to develop content and distribute content in the TV industry.”

For James though, he believes the creative industries is one of the most exciting investment areas.

“We’ve seen over the years, when you capture a consumer’s attention and engagement, and their willingness to pay, you can have opportunities which can give you those venture style returns. I think a lot of investors are embracing it (now) because (historically) there is some complexity around whether it’s an IP or whether it’s distribution methods that (have) put some off in the past. I think people have seen enough in terms of some of the amazing opportunities that people can get financially from it. The creative industries are bleeding into more of the way people interact traditionally, as well whether it’s AR and VR, or whether it’s interactivity; people’s expectations of how they interact with content is changing.”

Looking to the future, James is excited about what the creative industries can offer.

“Thinking of the next five years, investors should have the creative industries in their portfolio to capture one of the biggest and most exciting sectors. The blend between technology and creativity is definitely getting there and the increasing direct interactivity between people and content will continue to be a driver of exciting new opportunities in the media space – be that voice, interactive content and perhaps AR/VR.”

Find out more about the Evolve Programme and our investor ambassadors.

Katryn Wales

By Katryn Wales07 Dec 2020