British Sky Broadcasting was formed in 1988 and is now a well established member of the UK broadcasting community. It is the operator of the UK’s largest digital television platform provider, Sky digital. Sky also owns and broadcasts 11 television channels including entertainment and news channels - Sky News, Sky Sports, Fox TV and specialist channels, for example channels dedicated to the Asian viewer.
Sky employs 10,500 people in the UK. The company headquarters in Osterley, Middlesex also houses its broadcast operations. It has two contact centres in Scotland and broadcast studios in central London.
Sky’s vision is to be the UK’s no.1 family entertainment company. The company also recognises that being successful and ensuring its longevity relies on acting responsibly. The company is currently evaluating its approach to corporate responsibility that focuses on listening, learning and leading.
This case study focuses on the development and implementation of a strategy to ensure that disabled people can access and be part of all aspects of Sky’s business.
Two Acts were the main drivers for the launch of Sky’s Disability Strategy in 2003. The Communications Act of 2000 required broadcasters to promote and deliver ‘access services’. These are services which have sign language, subtitles and audio descriptions. It also required broadcasters to consider how disabled people are excluded from television. This second is the Disability Discrimination Act, which required companies’ customer services to provide for disabled people.
Sky’s previous attempt to comply with the legislation had not been very successful as the actions taken were mainly ‘add-on’ activities and lacked a strategy to underpin them. This approach reflected the company philosophy at the time of compliance rather than looking at the business case. “It was by creating an opportunity that we solved the problem,” said Kay Allen, Sky’s Disability Strategy Manager.
Sky’s approach had been driven by the legal implications and the associated costs of meeting the new legislation. So Sky approached Kay Allen, a Disability Rights Commissioner, to help develop its strategy. It first wanted to construct the business case so some simple research was conducted. This found that to cover the cost of compliance an estimated 60,000 new customers were required. However, Sky also found that it did not know how many disabled customers it had. Sky changed the recording of customer information to ensure that relevant needs data was collected for example by asking the question, “Do you use subtitles?”
Nine Focus Groups, involving over 100 disabled people, were held to provide input to the development of action plans that now support the Disability Strategy. The groups helped Sky to understand the barriers disabled people found to using their products. One barrier was that deaf people could not contact Sky because the only way was by telephone.
The objective of Sky’s Disability Strategy was and is to improve choice and opportunities for disabled people. This is either as television users or as employees within the industry, including those involved in the production of programmes. This strategy involved the development of long-term partnerships to help Sky better understand and reflect the expectations of disability groups. It covers the following areas: access to customer service; access to services - for example, subtitling on programmes; access to employment; portrayal – ensuring coverage of news, sports and programming accurately reflects the diversity of the UK population; access to the Sky website, access to Sky buildings and access to technology – for example the development and implementation of audio description on digital satellite.
To achieve this objective Sky realised there was much to be done. For example, to improve access to customer services it needed to invest and train its customer support staff. Training all 4,000 customer support staff was not a viable proposition due to time and costs. Instead 62 people were trained in disability awareness recognised by City and Guilds over eight months. A special service team at a call centre was set up to respond to disabled customers’ enquiries through direct access, which now includes email, fax, text, letter writing and telephone. With this service operational Sky was ready to launch a special marketing strategy to attract new disabled customers.
Developing a disability strategy presented challenges, not least changing the company’s perception of disabled people. For example there was a strong perception that blind people did not watch television. To develop a better understanding of blind people’s requirements, 16 blind people spent a day with programme makers.
The project started in October 2002. June 2003 saw the launch of the new customer service with the known register of 3,200 disabled users. A year later Sky had 16,000 known disabled customers, and in December 2004 that figure had grown to 21,000. By January 2006 Sky aims to see continual growth in customer numbers, an increase in access services and improve website access to all disabled customers. “By delivering excellence in service we intend to be the country’s no.1 entertainment company for disabled people” said Kay Allen.
Sky was the first broadcaster to launch a narrative language channel to enable programmes to carry audio descriptions for blind and partially sighted people. This proactive approach was taken two years ahead of the proposed regulatory requirements and has made other broadcasters recognise that they are not doing enough. Sky is also helping to lead the industry debate on access to interactive television.
The approach of inspiring and supporting change is now being replicated across all business areas. An example is Sky Movies’ commitment to deliver two signed movies on mainstream channels, achieved a year ahead of legislation.
The business benefits
From a standing start in 2002 Sky have created a robust strategy which links the needs of disabled people to the needs of the business. Sky’s ambition to achieve 60,000 disabled customers who would also generate a potential revenue of £20 million, would achieve a cost neutral budget (cover the expense of compliance for subtitling, sign language and audio-description). Through this approach Sky is building an enviable brand synonymous with an excellent reputation for meeting the needs of disabled people.
Why is it CSR?
The development and implementation of the Disability Strategy goes beyond current compliance. The pro-active strategy also fulfils a moral obligation by providing a service for all with additional benefits in terms of embedding disability awareness within the culture of Sky and the provision of training to Sky service teams and engineers. The wider impact on society will be a future where TV is inclusive. It also fulfils a business case - with over 4 million potential users of subtitles why not make all of them customers?
The Disability Service Team will be re-branded as the Accessibility Service Team in recognition that a growing ageing population will require many of the benefits that Sky offers.
For more information on Sky’s Disability Strategy please contact Kay Allen on email email@example.com.
© Article 13 and CBI – CSR Case Study Series, May 2005
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