The head of Sky News is set to quit after 16 years in the job, as the news outlet faces up to long-term challenges in adapting to a post-television future.
John Ryley has been in charge of Sky News since 2006, taking over at a time when the outlet was almost entirely focused on producing its flagship live television channel. Under his leadership, Sky News has transformed itself into a multimedia operation with a large online audience, although it continues to spend a substantial proportion of its budget on its traditional broadcasting.
Sources at Sky News told the Guardian that Ryley’s departure is expected be announced to staff in a call on Monday. Although details are yet to be confirmed, his departure is expected to be announced alongside new hires for Sky News’ data, podcasts, and original journalism teams. However, investment in some new studios will also be paused.
Ryley has largely been a popular figure in the Sky News office. He has negotiated the challenges of running a news outlet for almost two decades during an era where trust in parts of the media has collapsed, winning many journalism awards in the process.
In recent years he has written about his belief that television news should increasingly feature reporters offering expert analysis and context, rather than relying on a handful of patrician presenters: “The age of the all-powerful anchor is gone – instead they share the stage with journalists in the field, providing the audience with the high-fibre news they demand.”
Taken together, the announcements suggest Sky bosses are gearing up for a future where the television channel is less of a focus for the news operation. Although 10.2 million Britons watched Sky News’ television channel last month, audience figures for individual shows can be below 100,000 viewers, and the channel is increasingly turning to services such as TikTok to reach younger people. Its evening shows are often beaten in the ratings by heavily opinionated content on rightwing channel GB News, although it has been largely untroubled by the other upstart UK news channel, talkTV.
Sky News’ financial backing is wrapped up in corporate politics. The channel was originally founded in 1989 by Rupert Murdoch and for many years was seen as a loss-leading product which gave the broadcaster credibility among politicians and other journalists. When Murdoch sold Sky in 2018 to US media giant Comcast, the new owners pledged to maintain Sky News’ funding for a decade.
Although the end of that deal is some way off, decisions will need to be made about the outlets’ long-term future – and funding model – in the coming years. Comcast is thought to be looking for ways Sky News can be integrated more closely with its existing US-based NBC News operation, potentially including the increased sharing of reporting resources.
The wider Sky business has had a challenging few months, with revenues falling as consumers and advertisers cut back on spending in the face of tough economic conditions. The company is already looking beyond its satellite dish product and to a future where its subscription television product is delivered over the internet.