Sky gets on its bike with new TV channel
Cyclists are now able to indulge their passion around the clock and from the comfort of their sofa with a new Sky TV channel.
Through word of mouth alone, the UK version of Italian channel BIKE already attracts more than 40,000 daily viewers and will launch officially at the Soho Hotel in London on Wednesday (May 4) Italian legend Mario Cipollini in attendance.
It is the first TV channel fully dedicated to cycling in the UK and offers coverage of racing, lifestyle shows including great rides of Britain, city guides, a gadget show and mountain bike adventures.
“We are not a road geek hardcore cycling channel,” said founder Filippo Ubaldini. “We cater for the hardcore but also the more relaxed aspects of cycling and want to inspire people to ride.”
Mr Ubaldini, 51, said he chose the UK “because it is the biggest cycling market in Europe, for advertising spend and of course with Sky, Virgin, BT Sports, Freesat, we have between 70 and 80 million satellite viewers. This is a massive market.
“I am sure that the proposition of a 24-7 cycling channel can clearly interest some of this audience.”
BIKE was established in 2012 after Mr Ubaldini took a leap of faith and left his corporate career as managing director of Discovery networks in Italy to set the channel up.
“I nearly went bankrupt. I funded it out of my own pocket. It was initially positioned as pay per view and it didn’t work because the cyclist is not the person who wants to add £9 per month on top of his Sky subscription. So that’s where I made my first mistake and I learned my lesson.
“Then Sky saw the model, and they said ‘we will support you’ and they allowed me to be accessible to all five million subscribers in Italy and that’s when my ratings flew.”
At the time he hadn’t been cycling long, having taken it up in his mid forties “because I had this problem with my knees. I invented the bike channel on a ride. I had done 120km and I said ‘why is there not anything for cycling on TV?’ and when I came back I got off the bike and said ‘OK I’ll do it.’”
He spent the next two years visiting bike shops. “When I went to these shops I entered into these micro communities. I listened to what was going on. My source of inspiration was not the Italian magazines but the British magazines. I was insatiable, I bought stacks of these magazines, from Rouleur, to Cycling Weekly, everything. After that I went to Sky and proposed the channel to them and that’s how it took off.”
In Italy, BIKE has doubled revenue year-on-year since it launched, through product placement, traditional advertising, ad-funded programming and branded content. Mr Ubaldini believes he can replicate that success with his UK channel.
“This market is worth billions. If you look at it on a global scale and you look at the peripheral elements like travel and cycle tourism, it is a massive segment. In Germany, cycle tourism alone is worth €3 billion per year.
“The UK is the most dynamic market in Europe for cycling, that’s why we are here.”
BIKE is available now on Sky channel 464 and Virgin 552.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Times on May 3 2016